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The prosodic system of the Dakelh (Carrier) language Gessner, Suzanne C.


This dissertation is a study of the prosodic system of Dakelh (Carrier), an Athapaskan language of central interior British Columbia, focusing primarily on the endangered Lheidli dialect spoken in the area of Prince George, B.C. The study is primarily based on original fieldwork data, elicited from three native speakers of Lheidli Dakelh, and partly on comparison with the Nak'azdli dialect as reported in Story (1989). This work contributes much-needed empirical data to the long-standing debate over the proper characterization of Dakelh prosody with respect to notions such as tone vs. pitch accent vs. stress. Under the general rubric of prosody, three topics are investigated in detail. The first is an analysis of syllable and foot structure, developed within the framework of Optimality Theory, which addresses such issues as word minimality, epenthesis patterns, syllabification, and the relationship between syllable structure and stress. For example, epenthesis and deletion are found to be highly sensitive to morphological factors and morphologically-defined domains. Secondly, a phonetic investigation of properties which are usually correlated with stress, namely increased pitch, duration, and/or amplitude, is undertaken. One of the findings is that in addition to word-final stress in verbs, manifested primarily in terms of duration, "prominence" in the form of increased pitch is typically also found on one of the earlier syllables in the word. The location of the latter is partly determined phonologically, and in part lexically; certain prefixes appear to carry lexical tone, as in many related languages. The third topic under examination is the phonological behaviour of tone. Though a lexical tone contrast cannot be established on the basis of isolation forms alone, evidence of such contrasts comes from sandhi processes. The Lheidli dialect is shown to differ significantly from the Nak'azdli dialect in the phonological realization of tone patterns; for example, the distribution of high tone is partly sensitive to the phonation type of a preceding consonant. The word-internal distribution patterns as well as the tone sandhi system of both dialects are analyzed in Optimality Theory. Tone sandhi is shown to be derivationally opaque and thus highly problematic for standard versions of the theory.

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