Ikoma Vowel Harmony: Phonetics and Phonology

Statement of Responsibility:
Higgins, Holly Ann

This thesis is a description of the vowel harmony system of Ikoma (Bantu JE45; [ntk]), a previously undescribed Bantu language of Tanzania. Ikoma has the seven-vowel inventory /ieɛaɔou/ and both contrastive and conditioned vowel length. Vowel harmony operates in prefixes, stems and suffixes, but the harmony patterns in each domain are quite different. Ikoma’s harmony patterns are unusual and complex in a number of ways. In many other 7V Bantu languages with the same inventory (e.g. Bantu C; Leitch 1997), [-ATR] is clearly the marked, dominant value. Though Ikoma shows some similarities with the Bantu C languages, determining Ikoma’s marked [ATR] value is less clear, since there are superficial patterns which seem to suggest dominance of both [-ATR] and [+ATR]. For example, prefix alternations appear to treat [-ATR] as the marked value. Mid [-ATR] vowels are prohibited in prefix position, where only the mid [+ATR] vowels /e o/ are found. Curiously, however, even though [-ATR] vowels are the clear trigger of prefix alternations, [-ATR] does not actually spread. Instead, mid prefix vowels alternate to high vowels before [-ATR] stem vowels, which I analyze as a case of dissimilation. [-ATR] dominance is also found in stem and suffix harmony, but there are some patterns in these domains in which [+ATR] superficially spreads as well. Specifically, in verbs [-ATR] generally spreads rightward to mid-vowel suffixes, but there are several [+ATR] suffixes which trigger a change from /ɛ/ to [e] in the preceding stem vowel.

A formal analysis of these complex patterns must be built upon a solid descriptive foundation. For this reason, this thesis focuses primarily on establishing a thorough description of the facts, leaving a formal account for later investigation. The descriptive goal is highlighted by the inclusion of acoustic evidence, especially vowel formant analysis, which is presented throughout the thesis to support not only the vowel inventory but also the prefix, stem and suffix alternations. Though I make few attempts to formalize these patterns, I do summarize the necessary generalizations which a formalization of these patterns must take into account. The fact that the patterns show superficial dominance of both [-ATR] and [+ATR] sparks a discussion of theories of [ATR] markedness. In particular, I evaluate Ikoma’s vowel system in terms of Casali’s (2003) System-Dependent [ATR] Dominance hypothesis, which predicts that languages with Ikoma’s inventory (i.e. 7V system with a tongue root contrast only in the mid vowels) nearly always exhibit [-ATR] dominance. Casali (2002; 2003) also notes that not all forms of apparent [ATR] dominance must be treated equally. Instead, languages which superficially appear to have both types of dominance can usually be analyzed with one value functioning as systematically dominant, while the other value is much more limited, exhibiting indirect dominance (or, in the terminology of Bakovic 2000, “dominance reversal”). I summarize the evidence in favor of both possibilities. I also suggest some possible historical factors which could be the cause of Ikoma’s unusual markedness patterns.

In the interest of making this work available without further delay, we are posting it as it was accepted by the institution that granted the degree without further peer review.

320 pages
vowel alternation
markedness patterns
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