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Hidden changes in the prosodic structure of Estonian

Keywords: moraic theory, consonant gradation, Estonian quantity, history of Estonian, tone accent, weight by position

The article discusses the phonological development of the Estonian language. Ilse Lehiste has claimed that Estonian is changing from a quantity language to an accent language. This undergoing change has never been explained theoretically. Based on Moraic Theory, several steps of the change can be distinguished. First, Estonian has deactivated a process that adds moras to syllable codas. As a result, even main-stressed CVC syllables may be monomoraic. According to phonetical measurements, this may be the situation right now, yet the data is somewhat ambiguous as the measurements have been conducted for different reasons, not for investigating coda moraicity. If every CVC syllable is monomoraic, then the difference between the first and second quantity lies in the syllable structure (CV vs. CVC); the second and third quantity can be distinguished by syllable weight (light CVC vs. heavy CVC). Before the change, Estonian was a language with syllabic trochees; only in the case of the third quantity a stressed syllable had to fill the whole foot. After the change, Estonian has moraic trochees, except the second quantity words that begin with a CVV syllable. CVV syllables are always bimoraic. Therefore, second and third quantity words are still footed differently to maintain their difference: (CVV.CV) vs. (CVV).CV. The second quantity footing (CVV.CV) does not fit the system of moraic trochees and has to be altered. This can be done by reanalysing the pitch contour, which is characteristic of a foot, as phonological tone.

Külli Prillop (b. 1974), PhD, University of Tartu, Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics, Research Fellow in Estonian Phonology, kulli.prillop@ut.ee

 

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