Laryngealization: some descriptive, typological, and pedagogical perspectives
When an aspect of linguistic structure lends itself to multiple plausible analyses, the linguist considers and weighs the available types of evidence to argue for a “best” analysis. Laryngealization often poses such an analytical challenge; lacking supralaryngeal features, it may pattern in some respects like a segment, e.g. glottal stop, and in other respects non-segmentally, e.g. being realized as non-modal phonation or by interacting with tone.
This issue is explored here in two Otomanguean languages of Mexico: Zenzontepec Chatino and Tlahuapa Mixtec. While laryngealization in Zapotec, the sister group to Chatino, is almost always treated as a feature of vowels or syllables, in some cases with a glottal stop consonant as well, the evidence in Zenzontepec Chatino indicates that it is only a consonant. Analyses of Mixtec varieties treat laryngealization in several ways: as a consonant, as a vocalic feature, or as a floating feature associated with particular roots, with the last of these perhaps being the most common in recent work. It is argued that in Tlahuapa Mixtec laryngealization is also merely a consonant, but for different reasons than in the case of Zenzontepec Chatino. The arguments draw on evidence from phonetics, phonotactics, sound system economy, phonological processes and play language. Implications of the findings for language description, typology, and language pedagogy and maintenance are discussed.