An articulatory view of Kinyarwanda coronal harmony*

Rachel Walkera1, Dani Byrda1 and Fidèle Mpiranyaa2

a1 University of Southern California

a2 University of Chicago and CNRS/Université Sorbonne Nouvelle


Coronal harmony in Kinyarwanda causes alveolar fricatives to become postalveolar preceding a postalveolar fricative within a stem. Alveolar and postalveolar stops, affricates and palatals block coronal harmony, but the flap and non-coronal consonants are reported to be transparent. Kinematic data on consonant production in Kinyarwanda were collected using electromagnetic articulography. The mean angle for the line defined by receivers placed on the tongue tip and blade was calculated over the consonant intervals. Mean angle reliably distinguished alveolar and postalveolar fricatives, with alveolars showing a lower tip relative to blade. Mean angle during transparent non-coronal consonants showed a higher tip relative to blade than in contexts without harmony, and the mean angle during transparent [m] was not significantly different than during postalveolar fricatives. This is consistent with a model where Kinyarwanda coronal harmony extends a continuous tip-blade gesture, causing it to be present during ‘transparent’ segments, but without perceptible effect.


* We thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments, as well as Diamandis Gafos, Louis Goldstein, Mark Harvey, Jaye Padgett and audience members at UCLA, UCSC, the University of Toronto and the ASA meeting in November 2006. This work was supported by funding from the USC Provost's Undergraduate Research Program (awarded to the first author), NIH grant DC03172 (awarded to the second author), and Fulbright grant PL-87-256 (awarded to the third author). The authors thank Celeste DeFreitas, Sungbok Lee, Dr James Mah and Brian Ronge for research assistance and Jeanine Ntihirageza for documentation on Kirundi.