Tone in Eastern Bantu Orthographies

Bantu Initiative Orthography Meeting, Dallas, November 2005
9 p.
In this paper, vowel length issues in Eastern Bantu languages are investigated which could have implications for orthography development. Apart from phonemic length and vowel concatenation, both of which should usually be written with double letter, a closer look at compensatory lengthening (CL) is taken, i.e. underlyingly short vowels which are lengthened in the environment of labialization, palatalization and prenasalization. This process involves an orthography choice only for those languages which feature a vowel length contrast which is neutralized in CL vowels. Evidence is provided that in some languages, CL vowels group perceptually with short vowels in which case they should be written with single letter, while in others, they group with long vowels in which case they should be written with double letter. This can be tested either through instrumental duration measurements or through elicitation of mother tongue speaker perception. The interaction of length and tone issues and also the influence of Swahili, East Africa’s lingua franca, is duly noted as well as the caveat given that linguistic recommendations are often overridden by sociological, historical and political factors.
Publication Status:
Draft (posted 'as is' without peer review)
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vowel length
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