Rolle, Lionnet & Faytak (2019) – Areal patterns in the vowel systems of the Macro-Sudan Belt

Areal patterns in the vowel systems of the Macro-Sudan Belt
Nicholas Rolle, Florian Lionnet, Matthew Faytak
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March 2019
This paper investigates the areal distribution of vowel systems in the Macro-Sudan Belt, an area of Western and Central Africa proposed in recent areal work (Güldemann 2008, 2010, 2011, 2018b, Clements & Rialland 2008). We report on a survey of 681 language varieties with entries coded for two phonological features: advanced tongue root (ATR) harmony and the presence of interior vowels (i.e. non-peripheral vowels [ɨ ɯ ɜ ə ʌ …]). Our results show that the presence of ATR harmony in the Macro-Sudan Belt is limited to three geographically unconnected zones: an Atlantic ATR zone, a West African ATR zone, and an East African ATR zone. Between the West and East African ATR Zones is a genetically heterogeneous region where ATR harmony is systematically absent which we term the Central African ATR-deficient zone. Our results show that in this same Central African zone, phonemic and allophonic interior vowels are disproportionately prevalent. Based on this distribution, we highlight two issues. First, ATR and interiority have an antagonistic relationship and do not commonly co-occur within vowel systems, supported through statistical tests. Second, our survey supports the existence of the Macro-Sudan Belt, but the discontinuous distribution of ATR harmony and its systematic absence in Central Africa challenges the proposal that this area represents the ‘hotbed’ of the Macro-Sudan Belt (Güldemann 2008:167).

Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/004515
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Accepted to Linguistic Typology
keywords: phonological typology, vowel systems, vowel harmony, atr, macro-areas, areal linguistics, africa, phonology