Diachronic change in Erzya word stress

Diachronic change in Erzya word stress. By Dennis Estill. Helsinki: Finno-Ugrian Society, 2004. Pp. 249. ISBN 9789525150803. $52.99.

Reviewed by Jason Brown, University of British Columbia

This book presents a study of word stress in Erzya, a Mordvin (Finno-Ugric) language. Erzya seems to have a unique stress system, exemplified by features such as doubly-accented words and the variable placement of stress even within the same word. In the related language Moksha, stress is more stable. In this analysis of word stress in Erzya, Dennis Estill compares productions of present-day speakers of the language with data from the eighteenth century-to determine what the word-stress system was like historically, what it is like today, and if the system has changed over time.

An analysis of several eighteenth century documents including the Damaskin dictionaries (1785) and a short catechism from 1788 revealed that the second syllable was stressed fairly consistently and that long words often demonstrated right-headed features. Descriptions of Moksha echo this analysis.

E compared these findings with pronunciations of the same documents by present-day speakers of Erzya as well as some material collected in the 1980s. These productions were analyzed along the same parameters as the eighteenth century data. Additionally, to isolate correlates of word-stress such as fundamental frequency, intensity, and duration, an acoustic analysis was performed. E’s results suggest that, in contrast to the Erzya of 200 years ago, modern Erzya stress tends to be on or near the first, rather than the second, syllable. This tendency was observed in approximately three of four words, although the stress pattern was variable: any lexical item could be pronounced with stress on the first syllable or not, depending on the reading. Additionally, the acoustic analysis demonstrated that, although word stress may be influenced by intensity and duration, sentential stress may be determined by fundamental frequency. Several appendices display the data and the measurements.

E discusses the implications of his analyses on Proto-Uralic word stress. Stress placement in Proto-Mordvin has traditionally been believed to have been on the first syllable. Given the current findings, previous analyses may need revision.

E concludes that Erzya has a type of preferential stress system in which stress assignment is left to the preference of each speaker. Although the sentence stress data is limited, E also speculates about the way sentence stress may affect word stress in the language.

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