A prominence account of the Northern Mam weight hierarchy


  • Noah Elkins University of California, Los Angeles
  • Jennifer Kuo University of California, Los Angeles




prosodic weight, ternary stress, Optimality Theory, Mayan, Mam


Northern dialects of the Mayan language Mam have a ternary weight scale for assigning stress, with the added wrinkle that syllables with glottal codas are heavier than those with other coda types: VV > Vʔ > VC > V. This ranking is initially surprising under the currently accepted prominence theory of weight (Ryan 2019, 2020), where all codas are equally moraic in all contexts. However, a phonetic experiment undertaken by Kuo & Elkins (2022) on the Northern Todos Santos Mam variety shows that Vʔ (i.e. syllables with glottal codas) are realized as lengthened glottalized vowels without a [ʔ] release, with vowel length intermediate between that of V and VV. Consequently, the Mam hierarchy VV > Vʔ > VC falls out from the relative phonetic prominence of syllable types, consistent with Ryan’s account. In Ryan’s analysis, VV attracts stress away from VC because vocalic moras are more prominent than consonantal moras (enforced via the constraint VV→MAIN). We build on this analysis and propose that in Mam, Vʔ attracts stress away from VC because of its higher prominence. This result leads to a typological prediction, where differences in the phonological weight of Vʔ and other VC should fall out from language-specific phonetic realizations of Vʔ.






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