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Phonotactics and the prestopped velar lateral of Hiw: resolving the ambiguity of a complex segment*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 December 2010

Alexandre François
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Australian National University


Complex segments consisting of two phases are potentially ambivalent as to which phase determines their phonemic status – e.g. whether // is a stop or a nasal. This theoretical problem is addressed here with respect to a typologically unusual phoneme in Hiw, an endangered Oceanic language of Vanuatu. This complex segment, //, combines a velar voiced stop and a velar lateral approximant. Similar phonemes, in the few languages which have them, have been variously described as (laterally released) stops, affricates or (prestopped) laterals. The nature of Hiw // can be established from its patterning in tautosyllabic consonant clusters. The licensing of word-initial CC clusters in Hiw complies with the Sonority Sequencing Principle, albeit with some adjustments. Consequently, the well-formedness of words like /mejiŋə/ ‘berserk’ relies on // being analysed as a prestopped velar lateral approximant – the only liquid in the system.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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