A tonological rarity: Tone-driven epenthesis in Ghomala’
Nicholas Rolle
May 2022

This chapter focuses on a little-known tonological rarity: tone-driven vowel epenthesis. In Ghomala’ (Grassfields, Bantoid: Cameroon), an epenthetic vowel is inserted to avoid a rising tone on a syllable closed by an obstruent, i.e. /gɔ̌p/ → [gɔ̀pə́] ‘hen’. Epenthesis is never triggered in other tonal contexts (e.g. /kɔ́p/ → [kɔ́p] ‘pot’, *[kɔ́pə́]; /bɔ̂p/ → [bɔ̂p] ‘thorax’, *[bɔ́pə̀]), revealing that epenthesis cannot be attributed to segmental or syllabic well-formedness. Moreover, active alternations show that when a rising tone is changed the epenthetic vowel is also lost, illustrating complete co-variation. This paper explicates each of these points, and demonstrates that they support an independent proposal in the tone and Africanist literature: contrastive tonemes should be deconstructed into tonal features. Finally, we highlight that while the motivation for this process is quite common (avoiding a rising tone on a sub-optimal host), the repair itself (i.e. epenthesis) is virtually unprecedented in the tone literature. We discuss three explanations for its rarity, specifically contrasting it against intonation where it is more common: (i) the low functional load of tone, (ii) the analytic indeterminacy of epenthesis, and (iii) the potential to find pre-existing hosts. These factors conspire to make tone-driven epenthesis a tonological rarity.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/006615
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Submitted
keywords: typological rarities, tone, epenthesis, tone-segment interactions, tonal features, african languages, niger-congo, phonology
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