Ghana Journal of Linguistics

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What is the Phonological Word in Dagbani? A Positional Faithfulness Account

F Hudu


This paper offers a phonological diagnostic for defining the word in Dagbani, a Gur language of Ghana. It shows that a morphological unit that constitutes a complete word blocks contrast-neutralising phonological processes from target segments within its boundaries when triggered across its boundary. In sub-word units, these processes (e.g. nasal place assimilation, vowel harmony, segmental deletion) apply to target sounds without restrictions. The result is the maintenance of contrast in words and neutralisation of contrast in sub-words. The paper further argues that the asymmetrical application of these rules is an indication of a morphological strength distinction between the word as a strong position where segments are fully specified for phonological features, and the sub-word domain as a non-privileged position where segments may be underspecified for features. A formal analysis of the asymmetry is presented using the theory of positional faithfulness within the framework of Optimality Theory.

Keywords: Dagbani, nasal place assimilation, vowel harmony, underspecifiation, positional faithfulness
AJOL African Journals Online