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*NT revisited again: An approach to postnasal laryngeal alternations with perceptual Cue constraints

Journal article
Authors Silke Hamann
Laura J. Downing
Published in Journal of Linguistics
Volume 53
Issue 1
Pages 85-112
ISSN 0022-2267
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Languages and Literatures
Pages 85-112
Language en
Keywords Bantu languages, phonology, perceptual cue constraints, postnasal laryngeal alternations
Subject categories Languages and Literature, Linguistics, Phonetics, Specific Languages, African languages, Bantu languages


Phonological alternations in homorganic nasal–stop sequences provide a continuing topic of investigation for phonologists and phoneticians alike. Surveys like Herbert (1986), Rosenthal (1989), Steriade (1993) and Hyman (2001) demonstrate that cross-linguistically the most common process is for the postnasal stop to become voiced, as captured by Pater’s (1999) markedness constraint *NT. However, as observed since Hyman (2001), *NT alone does not account for all postnasal patterns of laryngeal alternation. In this paper, we focus on three problematic patterns. First, in some languages with a two-way laryngeal contrast, voiceless stops are aspirated postnasally, i.e. the contrast between NT and ND is enhanced, not neutralized. Second, in some languages with a three-way laryngeal contrast, the voicing contrast is maintained postnasally, while the aspiration contrast neutralizes in favour of aspiration. Third, in other languages with a three-way laryngeal contrast we find the opposite postnasal aspiration neutralization: aspiration is lost. We argue that an analysis based on perceptual cues provides the best account for this range of alternations. It demonstrates the crucial role of perceptual cues and laryngeal contrasts in a particular language while fitting the range of patterns into an Optimality Theoretic factorial typology that covers a wider range of postnasal laryngeal alternations than previous analyses.

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