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Irina Monich

University of Surrey

Monday May 1st, 2017 at 2:00 pm in AP&M 4301

Morphologically triggered tonogenesis in Dinka and Nuer: A working hypothesis

Abstract: In W. Nilotic languages such as Nuer and Dinka, various grammatical properties are
signalled primarily by introducing complex and layered changes to the stem. These changes
involve modification of vowel quality, quantity, tone, and consonantal mutation: W. Nuer
lɛ́p ‘tongue.SG.NOM’, lɛàp ‘tongue.SG.GEN’, lé̤e̤f ‘tongue.PL.NOM’. However, related
languages from a more conservative W. Nilotic sub-branch Burun suggest that the ancestral
language had a rich inventory of affixes which were lost in Nuer and Dinka. For example,
Surkum Ɂʌ̀m-bi ‘eat-AP’ (Ɂàm ‘eat.TR’) vs Nuer cà̤m ‘eat.AP’ (càm ‘eat.TR’); Mayak Ɂin-
ʌth “intestine-SG” (Ɂin “intestines”) vs Nuer ciɛ̀n “intestine.SG” (ciín ‘intestines.PL).
Historically, the stem-modifying morphological operations seen in Dinka-Nuer are relics of
processes related to the presence and loss of the old suffixes, such as compensatory
lengthening, intervocalic lenition, vowel harmony (Andersen 1988, 1990, 1999). The loss
of suffixes also correlated with emergence of such properties as vowel phonation contrasts
(breathy vs creaky/modal) and three degrees of length in Dinka and Nuer.
In this talk, I propose that loss of suffixation also introduced new complexity to the
old W. Nilotic tonal system, bringing about emergence of contour tones. Burun languages
typically have only two tonemes (H and L) but, as I will argue using Mabaan as example,
partial attrition of suffixes has already became a contributing factor for the appearance of
falling tones in these languages. Full attrition of suffixes in Nuer and Dinka has taken this
process a step further. I suggest that the same tonal rules that apply in Mabaan over a span
of a root and a partially atrophied suffix, apply within the stem in Nuer and Dinka, and are
responsible for generation of some falling tones. Another source of falling tones is found in
Nuer where high tones are realized as falling over all modal (but not breathy) vowels.