Syllables without vowels: phonetic and phonological evidence from Tashlhiyt Berber*

Rachid Ridouanea1

a1 Laboratoire de Phonétique et Phonologie (CNRS, Sorbonne Nouvelle)


It has been proposed that Tashlhiyt is a language which allows any segment, including obstruents, to be a syllable nucleus. The most striking and controversial examples taken as arguments in favour of this analysis involve series of words claimed to contain only obstruents. This claim is disputed in some recent work, where it is argued that these consonant sequences contain schwas that can be syllable nuclei. This article presents arguments showing that vowelless syllables do exist in Tashlhiyt, both at the phonetic and phonological levels. Acoustic, fibrescopic and photoelectroglottographic examination of voiceless words (e.g. [tkkststt]) provide evidence that such items lack syllabic vocalic elements. In addition, two types of phonological data, metrics and a spirantisation process, are presented to show that in this language schwa is not a segment which can be independently manipulated by phonological grammar and which can be referred to the syllable structure.


* I am indebted to many people for discussion of the ideas and facts presented here: Nick Clements, Lise Crevier-Buchman, François Dell, Cécile Fougeron, Susanne Fuchs, Louis Goldstein, Phil Hoole, Alexis Michaud, Janet Pierrehumbert, Annie Rialland and Donca Steriade, as well as audiences at the Research Laboratory of Electronics (MIT), at Haskins Laboratory (Yale University) and at the ‘Phonology Circle’ (Linguistic Department, MIT). I am also grateful to the editors, associate editor and three anonymous reviewers for Phonology for their valuable feedback. Thanks are also due to subject consultants for their participation to the phonetic experiments. Any errors or omissions are solely my responsibility.