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Tier geometry: An explanatory model of vowel structure

Backley, Phillip; (1998) Tier geometry: An explanatory model of vowel structure. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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A number of constraint-based models of phonology have established a shift in emphasis away from rules and derivations towards a more representationally-oriented view of description. This enrichment of representational structure has led to a significant reduction in the generative power of the phonological component. This thesis proposes that the advantages of the Element Theory (Kaye et al. 1985, Harris & Lindsey 1995) approach to melodic structure - which maintains this trend towards greater generative restrictiveness - may be enhanced by the introduction of an intra-segmental geometry of melodic tiers. A hierarchy of element tiers for vowels is constructed according to the same principles of licensing that control prosodic structure, allowing a unified representational hierarchy that highlights the interrelatedness between melody and prosody. The melodic geometry of a language is built around a limited set of parametric choices that control tier sharing/division, the structural dependency relations holding between elements, and the possibilities for licensing a complement tier (which replaces the notion of melodic headship). The sub-segmental tier structure of a language provides a melodic template, latently present under all prosodic positions, which delimits the range of oppositions each position may potentially support. This template interacts with only a single kind of lexical activation instruction - ACTIVATE [α] - which typically applies at the skeletal level to give the kinds of 'segmental' contrasts found universally. Licensing Inheritance (Harris 1992, 1997) then applies throughout the unified melodic-prosodic structure, predicting various dynamic phenomena and distributional asymmetries associated with prosodic strength and structural complexity. Optionally, activation is specified at higher prosodic levels (e.g. foot, word), resulting in the interpretation of a melodic property over a domain larger than the segment. While a word-level instruction ACTIVATE [A] describes height harmony, for example, a similar specification of a complement tier will predict the alternation patterns of tongue root harmony systems. Analyses of languages exhibiting ATR harmony (Turkana, Bari, Kinande) and RTR harmony (Yoruba, Wolof) demonstrate (i) the restrictive nature of the tier geometry model and (ii) its capacity for incorporating typological variation such as opacity versus transparency and a~ə alternations.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Tier geometry: An explanatory model of vowel structure
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Language, literature and linguistics; Phonology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10105116
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