The distribution of advanced tongue root harmony and interior vowels in the Macro-Sudan Belt


  • Nicholas Revett Rolle UC Berkeley
  • Matthew Faytak UC Berkeley
  • Florian Lionnet UC Berkeley / Princeton University



advanced tongue root, vowel systems, areal linguistics, interior vowels, Africa


In this paper we investigate the distribution of vowel systems in the Macro-Sudan Belt, an area of Western and Central Africa proposed in recent areal work (Güldemann 2008, 2011; Clements & Rialland 2008). We report on a survey of 615 language varieties with entries coded for two phonological features: advanced tongue root (ATR) harmony and the presence of interior vowels (i.e. non-peripheral vowels, such as [ɨ ɯ ɜ ə ʌ ...). Our results show that the presence of ATR harmony in the Macro-Sudan Belt is limited to three separated zones: an Atlantic ATR Zone, a West African ATR Zone, and an East African ATR Zone, all geographically unconnected to one another. We additionally show that between the West and East African ATR Zones is a geographically extensive, genetically heterogeneous region of Central Africa where ATR harmony is systematically absent which we term the Central African ATR-less Zone. Our results also show a large region where phonemic and allophonic interior vowels are disproportionately prevalent, which we term the Central African Interior Vowel Zone. This zone noticeably overlaps with the Central African ATR-less Zone, suggesting that ATR and interiority have an antagonistic relationship. Chi-squared tests support the presence of a strong relationship between the two types of vowel contrasts.




How to Cite

Rolle, Nicholas Revett, Matthew Faytak, and Florian Lionnet. 2017. “The Distribution of Advanced Tongue Root Harmony and Interior Vowels in the Macro-Sudan Belt”. Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America 2 (June): 10:1–15.