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Linguistics Vanguard

A Multimodal Journal for the Language Sciences

Editor-in-Chief: Bergs, Alexander / Cohn, Abigail C. / Good, Jeff

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Phonotactic c(l)ues to Bantu noun class disambiguation

Aaron Braver / Wm. G. Bennett
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  • Department of English Language and Linguistics, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa
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Published Online: 2016-12-13 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/lingvan-2016-0062


While a number of phonologists assume that phonotactics can provide clues to abstract morphological information, this possibility has largely gone unconsidered in work on Bantu noun classes. We present experimental evidence from isiXhosa (a Bantu language of the Nguni family, from South Africa), showing that speakers make use of root phonotactics when assigning noun classes to nonce words. Nouns in Xhosa bear class-indicating prefixes, but some of these prefixes are homophonous – and therefore ambiguous. Our findings show that when speakers are presented with words that have prefixes ambiguous between two classes, phonotactic factors can condition them to treat the nouns as one class or the other. This suggests that noun class (and other abstract morphological information) is not only stored in the lexicon, but is also redundantly indicated by phonotactic clues.

Keywords: phonotactics; noun class; NC; Xhosa; isiXhosa; Bantu


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About the article

Published Online: 2016-12-13

Published in Print: 2016-12-01

Funding: This work was supported by a grant from the Rhodes University Research Council.

Citation Information: Linguistics Vanguard, Volume 2, Issue 1, 20160062, ISSN (Online) 2199-174X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/lingvan-2016-0062.

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