Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Nasal Substitution in Sarawak Malay Dialect

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Nasal Substitution in Sarawak Malay Dialect

Article excerpt


This study discusses a phonological strategy, i.e. nasal substitution, which is regularly applied to eliminate nasal and voiceless obstruent clusters from emerging in the surface representation. As claimed in previous studies, the clusters are disallowed from emerging in the surface representation. Nasal substitution is therefore applied as a strategy to get rid of those clusters. In this paper, I will present how nasal substitution is applied in the Sarawak Malay dialect by focusing on two morphological environments in which the clusters emerge, i.e. within roots and at prefix junctures. The data obtained from interviews show that nasal and voiceless obstruent clusters are not completely disallowed in the dialect, as nasal substitution is only active at prefix junctures and not within roots. Furthermore, in this dialect, voiced obstruents also undergo nasal substitution. These phenomena are accounted for in this study by proposing CRISP-EDGE [σ] and UNIFORMITY-ROOT in the grammar of the Sarawak dialect of Malay.

Keywords: nasal substitution, Sarawak dialect, Malay, optimality theory

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1. Introduction

It has widely been claimed in the literature that nasal and voiceless obstruent clusters are not allowed to emerge in the surface representation. The occurrence of those clusters in the input representation has therefore always been resolved by applying phonological strategies, e.g. nasal substitution, nasal deletion, denasalisation, post-nasal voicing and vowel epenthesis (Pater, 2001). A language may apply one or more strategies to avoid clusters in the surface representation. For example, in the group of Malay native words, nasal substitution is applied when the input contains a nasal and voiceless obstruent to break up a cluster, whereby the voiceless obstruent is deleted and leaves its place of articulation to the preceding nasal. This strategy is however not applied to monosyllabic foreign words. Vowel epenthesis is applied instead (Syed Jaafar, 2010).

Why are voiceless obstruents following nasals disfavoured, while voiced obstruents are not? This is something that needs to be discussed by taking the phonetic aspect of voiceless and voiced obstruents into account. A nasal consonant is produced by lowering the velum in the mouth, allowing air to exit freely through the nose. The change from a nasal consonant to an obstruent causes the velum to be raised and this block the airflow from passing through the nose (Kager, 1999: 61). However, the process of raising the velum takes some time and is incomplete at the time when the obstruent begins. At this point, there is still a little air flowing out through the nose because the velum is not raised high enough. This is called 'nasal leak' (Kager, 1999). As the presence of a voiceless obstruent following a nasal segment causes difficulty to the system of human articulation, the clusters undergo some repair strategies. As we will see in this analysis, the clusters at prefix junctures also undergo a repair strategy, i.e. nasal substitution, e.g. /n+ kira/ [arrow right] [nira] and /n+ toleh/ [arrow right] [noleh].

It should be mentioned that the reverse state occurs in the dialect if the obstruent is voiced. This raises the question of how this phonological process can be resolved in OT analysis. OT as a current theory in phonology has introduced different ways of analysing data, with no more rules or intermediate phonological representations applied, as in a rule-based approach. The innovation that OT offers compared to other alternative theories in phonology has therefore led this study to apply it to analyse the case of nasal substitution in the Sarawak Malay dialect (Note 1) (henceforth, SMD). To deal with the issue of nasal substitution in SD, it is necessary to posit a constraint that is able to rule out a nasal plus a voiced obstruent cluster, so that a candidate with nasal substitution can emerge as the optimal output. …

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