Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies

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Complexity in phonology: The complex consonants of simple CV-syllables in Zezuru

Maxwell Kadenge


The main objective of this article is to investigate the interplay of simplicity and complexity in the phonological structure of Zezuru. The article argues that Zezuru affricates, prenasalised consonants (NCs) and velarised consonants (Cws) are subsegmentally complex segments which function as simple onsets. Treating them as heterosyllabic clusters suggests that they are complex onsets (CC) which presents challenges for the simple CV-syllable structure of the language. In order for these consonants to fit into the CV syllable template, they have to be analysed as complex consonants that occupy a single C-slot (simple onsets). The study considers phonological, morphological and distributional evidence and concludes that these consonants are best analysed as monosegments (one-root analysis) rather than heterosyllabic clusters. The argument that NCs are simple onsets is further supported by native speaker intuitions about syllabification. Complexity in phonology is thus not necessarily an overall tendency of the language but is defined per hierarchical level of phonological structure and in the case of Zezuru the syllable structure is simple, but the subsegmental representations are highly complex. This suggests that there is a trade-off between complexity at the subsegmental level and simplicity at the syllable level. The article scrutinises this interplay of simplicity and complexity in the complex consonants of Zezuru. Perhaps, the occurrence of highly complex consonants in Southern Bantu languages such as Zezuru is a result of obeying the cross-linguistic tendency to have a simple syllable structure.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2010, 28(4): 393–408
AJOL African Journals Online