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Downing, Laura

Downing, Laura

NIAS Individual Fellowship

Investigating How Laryngeal Contrasts Shape Consonant Phoneme Inventories

Research Question

There are two conflicting linguistic theories of the expected typology of laryngeal contrasts in consonant systems. They will be tested by conducting a phonetic survey of a representative sample of African languages in order to determine: What range of laryngeal contrasts do we actually find? Which theoretical model best accounts for the attested consonant systems and processes affecting laryngeal contrasts?

Research Project

Theory building in the fields of phonetics and phonology depends on typological generalizations over phonetically accurate information about inventories of contrastive sounds (phonemes) and the output of phonological processes. Laryngeal contrasts (like that between the first sound in tug vs dug) are a central phonetic parameter defining consonant inventories; accounting for neutralization of laryngeal contrasts is a perennial concern of phonology. Yet, phonetic information about the realization of laryngeal contrasts is lacking for many of the world’s languages. This project aims to address this gap by undertaking a phonetic survey of laryngeal contrasts in selected African languages. This language area has been chosen as it is both particularly understudied and has the properties needed to test two current theories concerning unmarked systems of laryngeal contrast.

Selected Publications

1) Laura J. Downing and Al Mtenje. 2017. The Phonology of Chichewa. Phonology of the World’s Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-872474-2. DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198724742.001.0001

2) Silke Hamann and Laura J. Downing. 2017. *NT Revisited Again: a perceptual cue constraint approach to postnasal laryngeal alternations. Journal of Linguistics 53.2, 85-112. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022226715000213

3) Laura J. Downing. 2017. Grounding Nguni depressor effects. In Wolfgang Kehrein, Björn Köhnlein, Paul Boersma, & Marc van Oostendorp (eds.), Segmental structure and tone. Linguistische Arbeiten 552. Berlin: De Gruyter, 109-146. Chapter DOI: 10.1515/9783110341263-005

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