Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Linguistics Program

Committee Chair

Mizuki Miyashita

Commitee Members

Michael Olsen, Leora Bar-el


vowel elision, Tariana, hiatus resolution, sonority, coalescence


University of Montana


This thesis provides an Optimality Theory (OT) analysis (Prince and Smolensky 1993, McCarthy and Prince 1995) of vowel alternations that occur upon affixation across pronominal prefix-verb root boundaries in Tariana (North Arawak; Colombia/Brazil). Previously, the vowel alternations observed in these environments have been described in terms of linear analysis, as independently-motivated processes under the cover term vowel fusion (Aikhenvald 2003). I propose that the vowel alternations occur as instruments of hiatus resolution. Three alternations, or hiatus resolution strategies, are observable in Tariana pronominal prefix-verb root affixation: no change (or diphthong formation), coalescence, and vowel elision. I propose that sonority sequencing governs the form that hiatus resolution takes. Vowel sequences that rise in sonority undergo no observable change (e.g. /du-éma/ → [duéma] ‘she stands’). Because the domain of sonority is syllable-internal (Clements 1990, Rosenthall 1994, Blevins 1995), this analysis carries the implication that sequences exhibiting no featural change between input and output form diphthongs rather than sequences of hiatus. Sequences of falling sonority result in coalescence (e.g. /na-ísa/ → [nésa] ‘they climb’) or vowel elision (e.g. /wa-éku/ → [weéku] ‘we run’). I maintain that mid-vowel coalescence in Tariana is governed by adherence to ternary vowel height adjacency, as proposed by Gnanadesikan (1997). Furthermore, I submit that coalesced outputs are monomoraic when /i/ is the initial input vowel in the root, because root-initial /i/ carries no mora in Tariana. Vowel elision results in the loss of either the prefix or the root vowel upon pronominal prefixation in Tariana. I propose that the quality of the vowel output, whether it mirrors that of the prefix or root vowel in the input, is determined based on subsistence of the root vowel feature [αback], and an avoidance of the vocalic feature [+high]. The analysis presented in this thesis serves to reinterpret the previous linear analysis of vowel alternations observed across pronominal prefix-verb root boundaries in Tariana. It utilizes OT to functionally unify the vowel alternations, showing that each distinct process occurs in order to avoid hiatus formation.



© Copyright 2014 Kate Hohenstein