A tonological rarity: Tone-driven epenthesis in Ghomala’
Nicholas Rolle
June 2022

This chapter focuses on a little-known tonological rarity: tone-driven vowel epenthesis. In the Cameroonian language Ghomala’, an epenthetic vowel is inserted to avoid a rising tone on a syllable closed by an obstruent (e.g. /gɔ̌p/ → [gɔ̀pə́] ‘hen’) but is never inserted in other tonal contexts (e.g. /bɔ̂p/ → [bɔ̂p] ‘thorax’, *[bɔ́pə̀]). Morpho-phonological alternations show that when this rising tone is modified, the epenthetic vowel is also lost, illustrating strict co-variation between tone and segment. Unlike most cases of vowel epenthesis in the literature, epenthesis cannot be attributed to segmental or syllabic well-formedness. This paper catalogues all supporting evidence for tone-driven epenthesis the Ghomala’, including instrumental analysis of recordings made approximately forty years apart, and develops a representational analysis involving tonal features. Finally, we show that while the motivation for this process is quite common (avoiding a rising tone on a sub-optimal host), the repair itself (i.e. epenthesis) is virtually unprecedented in the tone literature. We discuss three explanations for its rarity: the low functional load of tone, the analytic indeterminacy of epenthesis, and the potential for tone to find a pre-existing host.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/006615
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Submitted to Cormac Anderson, Natalia Kuznetsova, & Shelece Easterday (eds.), Rarities in phonetics and phonology. Language Science Press.
keywords: typological rarities, tone, epenthesis, tone-segment interactions, tonal features, niger-congo, phonology
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