Segments, Tones and Distribution in Khoekhoe Prosody

Johanna Brugman

This dissertation provides a prosodic analysis of Khoekhoe (Nama), a Khoesan language spoken by about 250,000 people in Namibia, South Africa and Botswana. Drawing on both published sources and original fieldwork, I show that nearly all Khoekhoe morphemes pattern prosodically as either (lexical) roots or (functional) clitics. These categories differ phonotactically in segment distribution, tone distribution and prosodic quantity, and syntactically in their ability to occupy phrase-initial positions. I argue that the primary difference between them is that roots obligatorily initiate a prosodic word, while clitics obligatorily follow one. One crucial observation about both segment and tone distribution in Khoekhoe is that all morphoprosodic positions are subject to some type of neutralization, so there is no environment in which all contrasts occur. I show that a full account of these patterns requires both positional faithfulness (Beckman 1999) and positional augmentation (Smith 2005). But though the patterns are quite robust, some morphemes seem phonotactically intermediate between roots and clitics. These include demonstratives, auxiliaries, adverbs, postpositions, complementizers and pronouns. I show that their behavior requires us to distinguish among those constraints that target roots, those that target grammatical words and those that target prosodic words.

In addition to these morpheme-level distribution patterns, Khoekhoe employs a type of phrase-level tone sandhi that is best known from descriptions of languages like Xiamen (Chen 1987), in which a morpheme’s citation melody is replaced paradigmatically in certain prosodically-defined environments. Khoekhoe, however, differs from Southern Min languages in that citation melodies are retained in initial—not final—positions, and that function words fail to take sandhi forms. I show that the domain of tone sandhi can be captured in terms of phonological phrases (Selkirk 1986, Nespor and Vogel 1986), as has been proposed for Xiamen and Taiwanese (Chen 1987, Lin 1994, Truckenbrodt 1999), but that a complete account of Khoekhoe melody substitution patterns requires both positional faithfulness and positional markedness, just like the morpheme-level phonotactics. Overall, positional constraints in Khoekhoe conspire to restrict marked elements to the perceptually prominent left edges of syllables, morphemes, prosodic words and phonological phrases.