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Questioning the universality of the syllable: evidence from Japanese*

  • Laurence Labrune (a1)

This paper reexamines the issue of the mora, the foot and the syllable in Tokyo Japanese, and shows that whereas the mora and the foot are indisputably present and active, the evidence for the syllable is inconspicuous and disputable. Building on this observation, I claim that Tokyo Japanese makes no use of the syllable. Instead, two types of mora are distinguished: regular CV moras and weak (deficient) moras. Weak moras include the moraic nasal, the first part of a geminate and the second part of a long vowel, as well as moras containing an onsetless vowel, a devoiced vowel or an epenthetic vowel. I further argue that feet obey a set of structural constraints stipulating that they be properly headed by a regular full mora. With this enriched notion of mora type, the paper argues that neither the syllable nor any other level of the prosodic hierarchy is obligatory in all languages.

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