An evidence-based new analysis of Persian word prosody

Author: Hamed Rahmani
LOT Number: 539
ISBN: 978-94-6093-324-0
Pages: 183
Year: 2019
1st promotor: Prof. dr. C.H.M. Gussenhoven
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In addition to vowels and consonants, phonological representations consist of tones. Languages exploit tones in strikingly different ways. In languages that do not use tones to distinguish content words or familiar morphological classes, tones are often seen as a characterising feature of prosodic domains like foot, phonological phrase, etc. While this may be true for many familiar languages, it is ultimately an empirical question as to how tones function in the grammar of a given language. This dissertation departs from previous works on Persian prosody, by providing two novel findings. First, the high-pitched syllable in a word’s citation form, earlier analysed as its ‘word stress’, is due to a morpheme, whose sole exponent is a High tone, and whose location is entirely governed by syntax. This tonal morpheme makes a substantial contribution to the unravelling of semantic interpretations from linear strings of segmental morphemes by its promiscuous marking of the primary syntactic constituents of sentences, where it crucially distinguishes nominal from verbal elements. Second, independently of the syntactically-governed tone, Persian does in fact have metrical stress in the form of iambic feet, as evidenced by several nontonal phenomena such as vowel harmony and vowel deletion. These findings are supported by the results of the production, identification and sequence-recall experiments reported in this dissertation. This study has significant implications for both phonologists and syntacticians. On the one hand, from the perspective of prosodic typology, Persian stands out of the coexistence of postlexical tonal assignment and word-based metrical structure, whereby the two do not communicate with each other. On the other hand, because of its apparently unique way to reflect the syntactic configurations, The Persian tone presents itself as a powerful tool for looking into language structure.

In addition to vowels and consonants, phonological representations consist of tones. Languages exploit tones in strikingly different ways. In languages that do not use tones to distinguish content words or familiar morphological classes, tones are often seen as a characterising feature of prosodic domains like foot, phonological phrase, etc. While this may be true for many familiar languages, it is ultimately an empirical question as to how tones function in the grammar of a given language. This dissertation departs from previous works on Persian prosody, by providing two novel findings. First, the high-pitched syllable in a word’s citation form, earlier analysed as its ‘word stress’, is due to a morpheme, whose sole exponent is a High tone, and whose location is entirely governed by syntax. This tonal morpheme makes a substantial contribution to the unravelling of semantic interpretations from linear strings of segmental morphemes by its promiscuous marking of the primary syntactic constituents of sentences, where it crucially distinguishes nominal from verbal elements. Second, independently of the syntactically-governed tone, Persian does in fact have metrical stress in the form of iambic feet, as evidenced by several nontonal phenomena such as vowel harmony and vowel deletion. These findings are supported by the results of the production, identification and sequence-recall experiments reported in this dissertation. This study has significant implications for both phonologists and syntacticians. On the one hand, from the perspective of prosodic typology, Persian stands out of the coexistence of postlexical tonal assignment and word-based metrical structure, whereby the two do not communicate with each other. On the other hand, because of its apparently unique way to reflect the syntactic configurations, The Persian tone presents itself as a powerful tool for looking into language structure.

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