quinta-feira, 31 de março de 2011

Segments and Suprasegmentals

Despite the failure to find any confirmation of a compensation hypothesis in several tests involving segmental subinventories, it is possible that the compensation exists at another level. One possibility was evidently in the minds of Firchow and Firchow (1969). In their paper on Rotokas (625), which has an inventory of only 11 segments, they remark that "as the Rotokas segmental phonemes are simple, the suprasegmentals are complicated". A similar view of a compensatory relationship between segmental and suprasegmental complexity seems implicit in much of the literature on the historical development of tone. For example, Hombert, Ohala and Ewan (1979) refer to "the development of contrastive tones on vowels because of the loss of a voicing distinction on obstruents". If this phenomenon is part of a pervasive relationship of compensation we would expect that, in general, languages with larger segmental inventories would tend to have more complex suprasegmental characteristics.

In order to test this predictions, the languages in UPSID which have less than 20 or more than 45 segments were examined to determine if the first group had obviously more complex patterns of stress and tone thatn the second. Both groups contain 28 languages. The findings on the suprasegmental properties of these languages, as far as they cam be ascertained, are summarized in Table 1.4.

Despite some considerable uncertainty of interpretation and the incompleteness of the data, the indications are quite clear that these suprasegmental properties are not more elaborate in the languages with simpler segmental inventories. If anything, they tend to be more elaborate in the languages with larger inventories.

There are more "large" languages with contrastive stress and with complex tone systems (more than 2 tones) that "small" languages. There are more "small" languages lacking stress and tone. The overall tendency appears once againn to be more that complexity of different kinds goes hand in hand, rather than for complexity of one sort to be balanced by simplicity elsewhere.

(Patterns of Sounds, Ian Maddieson)

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