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Positional faithfulness, positional neutralisation and Shona vowel harmony

  • Jill N. Beckman (a1)
    • Published online: 19 November 2002

The distribution of the feature [high] in Shona verbs is a prototypical example of positional neutralisation accompanied by vowel harmony. In languages which exhibit positional neutralisation of vowel contrasts, one or more vowels (generally, the most marked members of the vowel inventory) may occur distinctively in only a small subset of the structural positions available in the language. Outside of these positions, the marked vowels may surface only if they harmonise with a similar vowel in the privileged position. For example, the mid vowels e and o in Shona verbs are contrastive only in root-initial syllables. These vowels may appear in subsequent syllables only when preceded by a mid vowel in root-initial position. A string of height-harmonic Shona vowels is therefore firmly anchored in the root-initial syllable, as shown in (1):

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For helpful discussion, I would like to thank John Alderete, Eric Baković, Laura Benua, Laura Walsh Dickey, Amalia Gnanadesikan, John Kingston, Scott Myers, Jaye Padgett, Cathie Ringen, Jurek Rubach, Rachel Walker and three anonymous Phonology reviewers, as well as audiences at Rutgers University and the 1994 Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America. Special thanks to John McCarthy and Lisa Selkirk for support and encouragement at all stages of this project, and to Scott Myers and Dave Odden for Shona data and information. This work was supported in part by grant SBR-9420424 from the National Science Foundation.
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  • ISSN: 0952-6757
  • EISSN: 1469-8188
  • URL: /core/journals/phonology
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