Hidden morpheme boundaries in Kabiye: a source of miscues in a toneless orthography

Oxford University Press.
Part Of Series:
Writing Systems Research, 2:2: 139-153
In many tone languages, decision makers have opted for zero representation of tone. This generates homographic tonal minimal pairs that may trigger oral reading miscues. But it would be wrong to attribute the source of all miscues just to tonal minimal pairs; there may be other aspects of the orthography's profile that inhibit word recognition. In the standard orthography of the Kabiye verb phrase, subject pronouns and modal morphemes are written attached to the root. The unforeseen secondary effect of this decision is that the identity of the root is often masked because the morpheme boundary is not explicit. A homograph analysis reveals that morphemic mismatches generate numerous tonal minimal pairs. But a miscue analysis reveals that the problem extends beyond these to any verb phrase that contains infrequent, alternating, or multiple prefixes, whether or not they are homographs. It follows that to disambiguate just tonal minimal pairs would only solve half the problem. A modification that highlights the morpheme boundary would directly address the real source of readers’ difficulties. The results of a dictation task in a classroom experiment indicate that root initial capital letters would be a promising solution.
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Subject Languages:
Content Language:
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Zero tone marking
Toneless orthography
Reading miscues
Morpheme boundaries
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