Linguistics Colloquium: Claire Bowern (Yale)

DEC 11, 2014 | 4:15 PM TO 6:15 PM



The Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue




December 11, 2014: 4:15 PM-6:15 PM




Speaker: Claire Bowern (Yale University)
Research Areas: Morphology, Field Linguistics, Historical Linguistics, Linguistic Variation
Title: Yidiny Stress, Length, and Truncation Reconsidered


The Pama-Nyungan language Yidiny has long held an important position in the typology of stress systems. Dixon’s (1977, 1990) original analysis of the system places alternating stress on odd-numbered syllables by default. However, stress is attracted to long vowels, which causes other, alternating stresses to shift also. Words with an odd number of syllables undergo penultimate lengthening, which in turn shifts stress onto even-numbered syllables. Addition of a monosyllabic suffix changes the syllable count, with concomitant stress and length adjustments. Accounting for these synchronic phenomena is Dixon’s main concern.
The system has proven a stubborn outlier within typologies of stress systems (Nash 1979, Hayes 1980, 1982, 1995, Halle and Vergnaud 1987, Crowhurst and Hewitt 1995, Pruitt 2011), however with the exception of Nash (1979), analyses of Yidiny stress have relied on the printed examples in Dixon’s works and taken the marking of length and stress as given. Here, we provide a new analysis of Yidiny stress, length, and truncation, based on observations from original recordings of the last fluent speakers. These recordings suggest a different analysis of Yidiny stress.
We claim that Yidiny primary stress is always located on the first syllable of the word — it does not move to long vowels. We support this with acoustic analysis of recordings made by both Dixon and others of narrative and elicited data. As in many Australian languages, feet associate with an L*+H pitch accent (Round 2009); the H typically aligns within the first syllable, as a narrow or a broad peak (cf. Bowern et al 2012); this is true even in loan words from English (e.g. jígu:lgu ‘school-dat’; Hale archive tape 4607); however, where a stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed syllables, its associated H may align late, for example within the next syllable.

Significantly, for trisyllables with a long vowel in the second syllable, the phonetics of the long vowel often match the English cues for stress, as noted elsewhere for other Australian languages (Round 2009). Therefore we find no need to claim that the long vowel is stressed, or that stress is optionally fronted (Dixon 1977:5), rather primary stress is always initial.
We show the value to phonological theory of revisiting claims made before the advent of easy access to acoustic data. It is now viable in many cases to conduct independent verification of analyses, based on original recordings.