Academic journal article Studies in African Linguistics

Bondu-So Vowel Harmony: A Descriptive Analysis with Theoretical Implications

Academic journal article Studies in African Linguistics

Bondu-So Vowel Harmony: A Descriptive Analysis with Theoretical Implications

Article excerpt

This paper provides a descriptive analysis of the [ATR] vowel harmony system of Bondu-so (Dogon, Mali), a previously undocumented language. Data come from fieldwork and have not yet been published. While Bondu-so has seven surface vowels, namely, two [+ATR, +high] vowels ([i], [u]), a [-ATR +low] vowel [a] and a [±ATR] contrast in the mid vowels with front [e]/[ε] and back [o]/[...], there is evidence for a more abstract vowel system phonologically consisting of ten vowels with [±ATR] contrasts with all vowel heights. Further, the language shows a three- way contrast with respect to the feature [ATR] on suffixal vowels: some suffixal vowels act as [+ATR] dominant, spreading their [+ATR] feature onto the root; other suffixes act as [-ATR] dominant, spreading [-ATR] onto the root, and still other suffixes have vowels unspecified for [ATR] receiving their [±ATR] feature by rightward spreading of the [±ATR] value of the root vowel. We offer an autosegmental analysis and then discuss the theoretical implications of such an analysis. These implications include the ternary use of [ATR], the issue of phonological versus morphological harmony, the relationship between vowel inventories and [ATR] harmony systems, and the question of abstractness in phonology.

1. Introduction

This paper examines the complex [±ATR] vowel harmony patterns in Bondu-so [bcmdú- só], (specifically the closely related dialects Kindige [kindigé] and Najamba [nàdjàmbà]), a Dogon language spoken in Central-Eastern Mali. The data are from the first author's familiarity with the language since learning it as a Peace Corps volunteer and continuing fieldwork done in Mali with two Kindige speakers by the first author in 2010 and in Burkina Faso with another Kindige speaker in 2012. Lexical items which come from Najamba are found in (Heath 2011) and confirmed with the Kindige speakers.1 In addition to all of the lexical items and acoustic measurements used for this study, a preliminary description of the phonology and morphology of Kindige is available at the Dogon languages project website,

We maintain the vowel harmony patterns in Bondu-so reflect an abstract phonemic vowel system. We argue that the language has a ten-vowel system with high, low and [±ATR] contrasts underlyingly; however, only seven distinct vowel qualities surface: [ieeaoou], with the [±ATR] contrast realized only on the mid vowels. High vowels are realized as [+ATR] and the low vowel as [-ATR] due to phonetically grounded constraints banning [-ATR] high vowels and [+ATR] low vowels (Archangeli & Pulleyblank 1994). We present evidence for this abstract analysis from the different types of [±ATR] vowel harmony that occur within the language.

We present an analysis that proposes an underlying set of ten vowels for Bondu-so, although future studies could include additional Dogon languages. Speaking purely from a data viewpoint, all the Dogon languages thus far studied have stems with [ATR] vowel harmony that could be analyzed with the same underlying ten vowels that we propose for Bondu-so since high and low vowels appear with both [-ATR] and [+ATR] suffixes. Heath (n.d.), though, considers [i u] as analytically 'extra-harmonic' or neutral, noting that [i u] may pattern like [e o] respectively in all studied Dogon languages. He states, "We have not observed any audible phonetic differences between two /i/ vowels or two /u/ vowels, so the distinction (in this analysis) would be covert." However, the details of his suggested analysis have not been worked out for the various constructions as we do here for Bondu-so.

Our analysis maintains that the initial vowel of Bondu-so content words is specified for a [+ATR] or [-ATR] feature which spreads to suffixes unspecified for the feature [±ATR], (Note that Dogon languages do not have prefixes.) However, there are suffixes which are specified for a [±ATR] feature. Such suffixes spread their [±ATR] feature onto the root word in a feature-changing manner. …

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