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Optimality in Benue-Congo prosodic phonology and morphology Ọla, Ọlanikẹ Ọlajumọkẹ


This dissertation investigates the instantiation of prosodic constituents, from the level of the prosodic word to the mora, in several Benue-Congo languages spoken in Nigeria, Togo, and the Republic of Benin. The over-all analysis is couched within Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky 1993, P&S) which states that phonological constraints are hierarchically ranked and violable. The cross-dialectal and cross-linguistic diversities exhibited in the languages discussed are shown to be a consequence of different constraint rankings. The observed variations and their respective analyses can be summarized as follows. First, only a subset of the total segmental inventory is moraic in all the languages examined. In some dialects of Yoruba (Ilaje), only vowels are tone-bearing and potential syllable peaks; in other dialects (Standard Yoruba and Onko), both vowels and nasals are tone-bearing, but only vowels may occupy the nucleus position in the syllable. In Idoma, vowels, liquids and nasals are tone-bearing, but only vowels and liquids are potential syllable peaks, nasals are excluded. These diversities are shown to follow from the different cut-off points established for non-nuclear moras as opposed to nuclear moras on the sonority hierarchy. Second, it is observed that vowels differ in their syllabicity capabilities depending on whether they are preceded by onsets or not. In Standard Yoruba, Owon-Afa, and Gokana, vowels are syllabified if onsets precede them; onsetless vowels are not syllabified. In Ondo Yoruba and Emai, vowels are syllabified regardless of whether they have onsets or not. The variation in the syllabification pattern is shown to follow from the variable ranking of ONSET and other syllable structure well-formedness constraints such as PARSENUCμ or PARSEμ. Third, the properties of foot structure found in the non-stress tone languages examined are reminiscent of the properties associated with the metrical foot. In Yoruba, Ibibio and Owon-Afa, feet are binary and headed. Ibibio utilizes trochaic feet while Owon-Afa and Yoruba use iambic feet. This finding confirms the proposal that non-stress processes utilize the metrical foot (M&P 1986, Inklelas 1989, Spring 1991, Downing 1994). Fourth, prosodic minimality and maximality effects are observed at the level of the prosodic word. Two patterns of minimality effects are found. In languages like Idoma and Gokana, the minimal prosodic word is a binary foot, while in languages like Yoruba and Ebira, the minimal condition requires the presence of a syllable in every word. Foot binarity effects are only required of specific lexical classes, like nouns, in both languages. The minimal syllable requirement is proposed to follow from properheadedness, and the diversities found in the spellout of prosodic minimally derived by the variable ranking of Foot Binarity and Properheadedness. The emergence of unmarked words in child phonology in English, Dutch and Yoruba is cited as evidence in support of this view of minimality: children start with CV words and then move on to the CVCV stage. These two stages are proposed to follow from Properheadedness and Foot Binarity assuming the “Continuity Hypothesis” which states that language acquisition is made up of a series of continuous stages determined by Universal Grammar (Pinker 1984). Concerning prosodic maximally, it is observed that the maximal instantiation of the prosodic word is two feet. This property is proposed to follow from the principle of binarity which limits the unmarked shape of phonological constituents to two tokens of a given phonological unit (Ito & Mester 1992).

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