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Laryngeal processes in Chipewyan and other Athapaskan languages Gessner, Suzanne C.


This thesis investigates laryngeal processes in Chipewyan and other Athapaskan languages. Athapaskan languages provide an interesting testing ground since they exhibit a three-way laryngeal distinction in stops (voiceless unaspirated, voiceless aspirated and glottalised), as well as a two-way distinction (voiced vs. voiceless) in fricatives. Data from a previously undocumented dialect of Chipewyan is presented to bring new evidence to bear on the cross-linguistic picture within Athapaskan. This dialect shows significant diachronic changes. Acoustic analysis reveals that several of the stops traditionally classified as voiceless unaspirated are phonetically voiced. Furthermore, the results show a front-back asymmetry in voicing. Other findings include merger of the alveolar and palatal stop series, and merger of interdental stops with interdental fricatives. The acoustic findings are used to develop a featural specification of Chipewyan consonants adapted from Rice (1994). The phonological behaviour of these stops has interesting implications for the phonetics-phonology interface. Several morphophonemic processes are examined from a cross-linguistic and comparative historical perspective to test the tenets of feature specification, privative features, constraint definition and interaction. Firstly, Pro to-Athapaskan had a two-way laryngeal contrast stem-finally (maintained, e.g., in Hupa), which has been neutralized in many daughter languages (e.g., Koyukon). Languages such as Chipewyan have undergone a process of stem-final spirantisation. These related processes of laryngeal neutralisation and spirantisation will be examined in an Optimality Theory context using constraints developed by Steriade (1997). Secondly, Athapaskan languages exhibit a phonological process of continuant voicing whereby voiceless noun stem-initial continuants become voiced with the addition of the possessive prefix. This process, displayed by previously documented dialects of Chipewyan, is analysed in an Optimality Theory framework. The research dialect of Chipewyan does not exhibit the process due to a restructuring of the morphosyntactic system of possession marking. Finally, tone and tonal processes, found in most Athapaskan languages, are the synchronic residue of Proto-Athapaskan laryngeal behaviour. Two examples of tone assimilation are discussed: Navajo, where inherent high tone spreads rightwards in verbs, and Chipewyan, where inherent high tone spreads leftwards in nouns.

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