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Nivkh palatalisation: articulatory causes and perceptual effects*

  • Bert Botma (a1) and Hidetoshi Shiraishi (a2)

Nivkh, a linguistic isolate of Eastern Siberia, displays a typologically uncommon process which affects /e/ in the context of a following uvular consonant, and which reportedly results in palatalisation of the consonant preceding /e/, e.g. /pʰeq/→[pʰʲq]. Phonologically, there are indeed reasonable grounds for analysing the consonants as palatalised. Phonetically, matters are less clear. Acoustic evidence shows that the clearest correlate of palatalisation is a steep and consistent fall of F2 during the realisation of the vowel. The fact that F2 lowering is also typical before uvulars suggests that palatalisation is the result of a perceptually motivated reanalysis, whereby the palatality of /e/ has come to be associated with the preceding consonant, and the vowel has a lowered and retracted reflex.

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*We are grateful to our Nivkh consultants for their support and cooperation. Thanks are also due to two anonymous reviewers and to audiences at the TIN-dag (Utrecht University, February 2011), the Element Fest (University College London, March 2011), the NWO/Endangered Languages Project Conference (Leiden University, April 2011) and the 19th Manchester Phonology Meeting (May 2011) for useful comments and suggestions. We are particularly grateful to Alexei Kochetov, whose detailed comments led to substantial improvements. The fieldwork on Sakhalin undertaken by the second author was financed by JSPS Kakenhi no. 20242010 and Sapporo Gakuin University Research Grant no. SGU-BS13-205009-02.
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