Phonotactics and the prestopped velar lateral of Hiw: resolving the ambiguity of a complex segment*

Alexandre Françoisa1

a1 Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Australian National University


Complex segments consisting of two phases are potentially ambivalent as to which phase determines their phonemic status – e.g. whether /S0952675710000205_inline10/ is a stop or a nasal. This theoretical problem is addressed here with respect to a typologically unusual phoneme in Hiw, an endangered Oceanic language of Vanuatu. This complex segment, /S0952675710000205_inline11/, combines a velar voiced stop and a velar lateral approximant. Similar phonemes, in the few languages which have them, have been variously described as (laterally released) stops, affricates or (prestopped) laterals. The nature of Hiw /S0952675710000205_inline11/ can be established from its patterning in tautosyllabic consonant clusters. The licensing of word-initial CC clusters in Hiw complies with the Sonority Sequencing Principle, albeit with some adjustments. Consequently, the well-formedness of words like /mS0952675710000205_inline11ejiŋə/ ‘berserk’ relies on /S0952675710000205_inline11/ being analysed as a prestopped velar lateral approximant – the only liquid in the system.


* I wish to thank LACITO (Langues et Civilisations à Tradition Orale), the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and the French Ministère de la Recherche (ACI Jeunes Chercheurs) for funding my field trips to Vanuatu since 2003, as well as the Linguistics Department at Australian National University for its intellectual support during the writing of this paper. This study was presented at the 2009 Australian Language and Speech conference in Sydney; I am grateful to the participants of the OzPhon workshop there (especially Brett Baker and Jonathan Harrington) for their constructive suggestions. I would also like to thank Juliette Blevins, Mark Donohue, Alexis Michaud and Steve Parker, as well as the reviewers and editors of Phonology, for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article; any remaining errors are mine. Finally, such a study would not have been possible without the help and kindness of the many Hiw people who patiently taught me their language – noke yöywye ti Sipo Ngwoypitven, Mama Stanley Veniwyoy, Mama Jimmy Tiwyoy and rakevaS0952675710000205_inline8eS0952675710000205_inline9wōt Sekop Elison.