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Moro vowel harmony: implications for transparency and representations*

  • Amanda Ritchart (a1) and Sharon Rose (a1)

This paper describes and analyses the vowel-harmony system of the Kordofanian language Moro. Moro has a cross-height dominant-recessive raising harmony system in which high vowels and a central mid vowel trigger harmony, while peripheral mid vowels and a central low vowel are harmony targets. Schwas can co-occur with any of the vowels, appearing inert to harmony. Yet when schwas occur alone in a morpheme, some trigger harmony and some do not. We suggest that an original ATR-harmony system shifted to a height system via merger and centralisation, producing two distinct central vowels, rather than a single schwa. One vowel patterns with the higher vowels in triggering harmony, and the other patterns with the lower vowels. We also propose that a particle-based representation offers the best characterisation of the groupings of target and trigger vowels in the language.

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We offer heartfelt thanks to the Moro speakers who participated in this study: Angelo Naser, Elyasir Julima, Ikhlas Elahmer and Israel Adeldong. We are also grateful to the Phonology editors and anonymous reviewers for feedback and guidance, and to audiences at the Annual Conference on African Linguistics, Chicago Linguistic Society, Réseau Français de Phonologie, University of Leiden, Institut für Afrikanistik und Ägyptologie, University of Cologne, and our colleagues at UC San Diego, especially Eric Baković and Marc Garellek. This research was supported by NSF grant BCS-0745973 Moro Language Project.

An appendix with a list of verb forms used in the acoustic study is available as online supplementary materials at

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