Sharon Hargus

Monday, May 14th at 2pm, Sharon Hargus (University of Washington) will give a colloquium in the UCSD Linguistics Department, in AP&M 4301. 

Deg Xinag "Voiceless Unaspirates": A Case of Phonologically Driven Phonetics?

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Since Sapir 1915, Athabaskan languages have been routinely described as having a three-way phonation contrast for syllable-initial (pre-vocalic) stops and affricates (at most places of articulation) consisting of voiceless unaspirates, voiceless aspirates, and ejectives. Proto-Athabaskan is reconstructed with only voiceless fricatives (Krauss 1964), but the typical daughter language has developed contrasts between voiced and voiceless fricatives in some contexts. Thus, the consonant inventory of a typical Athabaskan language includes five obstruents at most places of articulation; e.g. /k k^h k’ x ɣ/.

In syllable-final (pre-consonantal, word-final) position, the only stops and affricates which are allowed in the typical Athabaskan language are voiceless unaspirated; e.g. /k/. However, a few languages have variations on this basic pattern. Hupa, Dena’ina, Ahtna have conservatively retained syllable-final ejectives as well as voiceless unaspirates: /k k’/. Deg Xinag, Holikachuk, Tanacross have developed innovative voicing contrasts in syllable-final position: /k g/.

In this presentation I consider a question about Deg Xinag phonology posed to me by Jeff Leer, one of the leading scholars of Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit linguistics. Leer (p.c.) observed that there is evidence that the voiceless unaspirated stops/affricates pattern with voiced fricatives in some of the Athabaskan languages, such as an apparently voiced release following "voiceless unaspirates" which has been (impressionistically) described in a number of the languages (e.g. Navajo [k^ɣ], Reichard 1948). Given that Deg Xinag has a syllable-final voicing contrast, might the syllable-initial voiceless unaspirated stops in that language have shifted to voiced? I present phonetic evidence that Deg Xinag syllable-initial /t/ is still /t/. I contrast Deg Xinag with the Fort Ware dialect of Tsek’ene, where only syllable-final voiceless aspirated stops and affricates occur, yet there is phonetic evidence that /t/ has shifted to /d/. Thus neither Deg Xinag nor Fort Ware Tsek’ene exhibits phonologically driven phonetics, i.e. a situation where the inventories have shifted so that syllable-initial and –final contrasts are more symmetrical. Instead, as observed by Hayes and Steriade 2004 in their remarks on voicing obstruent contrasts, formal symmetry exhibits little pressure on this aspect of either inventory.

Hayes, Bruce, and Donca Steriade. 2004. 'Introduction: the phonetic bases of phonological Markedness.' In Phonetically-Based Phonology, ed. by Bruce Hayes, Robert Kirchner and Donca Steriade. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1-33.

Krauss, Michael. 1964. 'Proto-Athapaskan-Eyak and the Problem of Na-Dene I: The Phonology.' International Journal of American Linguistics 30:118-131.

Reichard, Gladys A. 1948. 'Significance of Aspiration in Navaho.' International Journal of American Linguistics 14:15-19.
Sapir, Edward. 1915. 'The Na-Dene languages: A preliminary report.' American Anthropologist 17:534- 558.

Colloquia Abstracts