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Low vowels and transparency in Kinande vowel harmony

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 July 2006

Bryan Gick
University of British Columbia and Haskins Laboratories
Douglas Pulleyblank
University of British Columbia
Fiona Campbell
University of British Columbia
Ngessimo Mutaka
University of Yaoundé


This paper addresses theoretical issues confronting cross-height harmony systems through an experimental study of Kinande, a Bantu language of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Using a combination of acoustic analysis and lingual ultrasound imaging, we evaluate previous proposals concerning the phonetic correlates of the harmonic vowel feature and the transparency of low vowels. Results indicate that (i) although a multivalued scalar acoustic feature in F1/F2 space is not adequate to distinguish all vowel categories in Kinande, the cross-height feature does correlate acoustically with F1, (ii) the cross-height feature of Kinande involves systematic tongue-root articulations and (iii) low vowels in Kinande are not neutral to harmony in the way reported in earlier work, but exhibit significant and systematic tongue-root advancement and retraction according to the dictates of harmony.

Research Article
© 2006 Cambridge University Press

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Thanks to Nick Clements for comments on an earlier draft of this paper as well as the associate editor and three anonymous reviewers. This work was supported by an NSERC grant to Bryan Gick and a SSHRC grant to Douglas Pulleyblank.