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Lecture | This Time for Africa! Series

Boa (Leboale dialect) vowel harmony

Friday 24 June 2022
This Time for Africa!
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


A symmetrical vowel system consisting of 7 contrastive vowels /i e ɛ a ɔ o u/ "is typical for many Bantu Zone C languages and several languages classified in Bantu Zone D." (Kutsch Lojenga, 2019:474).  “The high retracted vowels [ɪ] and [ʊ] are not seen at all in Bantu C." Leitch (1996:83). In such a system, vowel-height harmony and RTR harmony may occur.

It is well known that it is difficult to determine whether the 2nd degree vowels in a Bantu 7-vowel (or 9-vowel) system are [e o] or [ɪ ʊ]. Boa-Leboale, a Bantu C language (C44), is no exception. It would cause no controversy among linguists if Boa-Leboale would be described with /i e ɛ a ɔ o u/. However, according to speakers’ intuitions, some nouns have [ɪ] rather than [e] and in verbal prefixes , they hear [ʊ] instead of [o]. Unfortunately, the language does not offer clues from vowel harmony in the prefixes nor from conclusive patterns of co-occurrence restrictions in CVCV-noun stems. It does not help to analyse recordings of nouns, because usually the F1 and F2 values of [ɪ] vs. [e] and of [ʊ] vs. [o] are too close to be able to tell what they are.

It could be an idea to investigate the behaviour of high and mid vowels in Boa-Leboale verb forms. Over the past months, I have looked at the F1 and F2 values of 1,500+ verb root- and suffix vowels, after identifying base values of the Boa-Leboale vowels on the basis of the first stem vowel in CVCV-noun stems. The verb forms investigated are the unmarked future (final vowel -a), the negative future (suffix -ɪ/e), the subjunctive (suffix -ɪ/e), the applicative (suffix -ɪlɪ/ele), the Recent past (suffix -i) and the causative (suffix -is). In the talk, I will present the findings.

The findings may point in the direction of an asymmetric 7-vowel system, with emerging [+ATR] vowel harmony

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