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The Nishnaabemwin restructuring controversy: new empirical evidence

  • Dustin Bowers (a1)


The categorical deletion of unstressed vowels from iterative feet differentiates serial theories of phonology from parallel theories. Of at least equal importance is whether language learners acquire rhythmic syncope. A potentially illustrative case comes from the recent development of Nishnaabemwin (Algonquian), which extended unstressed vowel reduction until it approximated categorical rhythmic syncope. In response, an entire generational cohort reportedly carried out a dramatic restructuring by innovating a novel set of person prefixes and losing the surface alternations. However, the original reports are subject to some dispute. To shed further light on the status of rhythmic syncope in Modern Nishnaabemwin, this paper details three surveys of the first cohort of speakers born during the near-syncope period. The surveys indicate that, despite familiarity with the original system, the entire generational cohort uniformly adopted the innovative system.


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For their helpful feedback, I would like to thank Bruce Hayes, Rand Valentine, Kie Zuraw, three anonymous reviewers and participants in the UCLA phonology seminar, as well as audiences at the 44th Algonquian Conference, CLS 48, WCCFL 35, the University of Southern California, the University of Alberta and Yale University. Alan Corbiere, Mary Ann Corbiere and Reta Sands-Clement were also instrumental in this project. This work was partially supported by a grant to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.



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The Nishnaabemwin restructuring controversy: new empirical evidence

  • Dustin Bowers (a1)


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