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Prosodic asymmetries in nominal vs. verbal phrases in Bantu


Investigations into phonological differences between nouns and verbs focus almost exclusively on the lexical (word) level, showing that underlying contrasts are more numerous and stable (“faithful”) on nouns (Smith 1998, 1999). This raises the question of whether these (or other) alleged differences in word level phonology generalize to the nominal vs. verbal phrase. The Bantu family provides an ideal testing ground for such an investigation. Based on Bantu, I show that nouns are more likely to undergo modification at the phrase level than verbs, thereby obeying less “faithfulness” to the input than verbs. Nominal phrases also show more distinct outputs and complex idiosyncracies than their verbal counterparts. After establishing that there are distinct asymmetric properties in the phrasal phonology of nominal vs. verbal constituents in Bantu, I raise the question of what causes these asymmetries and whether they are general or pertain only to Bantu and other African languages.

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