Predicting Vowel Systems: An Acoustic Analysis of the Vowels of Mebêngôkre and Panará

Myriam Lapierre


This paper has both a descriptive and a theoretical goal. The first is to provide novel typological data on two severely understudied languages of the Jê family, Mebêngôkre and Panará, through an acoustic analysis of the vowels of the two languages. The second is to determine whether the predictions made by the Dispersion-Focalization Theory of vowel systems (DFT, Schwartz et al. 1997a) can account for the organization of the vowel systems of these two languages. Acoustic results show that neither Mebêngôkre nor Panará has a true low nasal vowel, and that the acoustic space of the nasal vowel systems of both languages is reduced in the F1 dimension. The DFT fails to predict this typological observation, which is commonly observed in nasal vowel inventories of the world’s languages (Beddor 1982, Kingston 2007). The author proposes that the acoustic space of phonologically nasal vowels is constrained in the F1 dimension. This small modification to the DFT allows the principles governing the organization of oral vowel systems to apply normally in nasal vowels, albeit in a reduced space. This prediction is consistent with the data observed from natural languages, in which we observe a larger number of contrasts among the F2 dimension than the F1 dimension for nasal vowels.


Mebêngôkre, Panará, Nasality, Vowels, Dispersion-Focalization Theory

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Copyright (c) 2016 Myriam Lapierre

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