Some Basics About Tigrinya Phonetics and Phonology



The Tigrinyan vowel system is characterized by the prescence of the following seven vowels: i, ɨ, u, e, ʌ, o, and a.

Buckley (1994) distinguishes the vowels on the basis of four features: high, low, back, round. The following borrowed graphic illustrates the specification of the vowel system:

     		i	e	ɨ	ʌ	a	o	u
high		+	-	+	-	-	-	+
low  		-	-	-	-	+	-	-
back 		-	-	+	+	+	+	+
round		-	-	-	-	-	+	+

The vowel ɨ is epenthetic.


The following consonants are present in Tigrinyan: /p/, /b/, /p'/, /m/, /f/, /v/, /w/, /t/, /d/, /t'/, /ts'/, /n/, /s/, /z/, /r/, /l/, /ʧ/, /ʤ/, /ʧ'/, /ɲ/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /j/, /k/, /kw/, /g/, /gw/, /k'/, /kw'/, /x/, /xw/, /ʁ/, /ʁw/, /ħ/, /ʕ/, /ʔ/, /h/. As the above list indicates, Tigrinyan possesses a number of ejective consonants: /p'/, /t'/, /ts'/, /ʧ'/, /k'/, and /kw'/. These ejectives are stop consonants in which the glottal constriction is enhanced by raising the larynx in the throat. This "compresses the air behind the oral closure; when it is released, a sharp, crackling sound is produced." (Kenstowicz, 1994: 40) AmerIndian languages also customarily have such ejectives.

There also are a number of dorsal consonants that may be hard for speakers of English to identify: the voiceless velar fricative /x/, the voiceless labialized velar fricative /xw/, the voiceless uvular fricative /ʁ/, and the voiceless labialized uvular fricative /ʁw/. The uvulars are characterized the tongue dorsum making a constriction at the uvula while the velars form the constriction toward the back of the mouth (essentially the same positioning as the back vowels). The labialization is produced by subtle lip rounding in conjunction with the primary articulation. Another thing to note is that the glottal stop /?/ is a consonant that can occur word initial and word final (this is added for the purpose of assisting transcription).


Syllable Structure:

igrinyan syllable structure is very strict. Every syllable consists of a single oset consonant, a vowel in the nucleus, and an optional coda. Therefore, only CV and CVC are allowed as syllables.


Buckley (1994) describes epenthesis in Trigrinyan as being prosodically determined. The vowels e, ʌ, a, and o (vowels with the feature -high) are forced to link to a nuclear (V) mora. True consonants must link to a non-nuclear slot (onset or coda).When a consonant cannot be syllabified a new mora is inserted and that consonant becomes the onset for a new syllable.

Some examples of epenthesis, taken from Buckley (1994), follow:

Example 1:
		kʌlb --> kʌlbɨ	'dog'
		kʌlb is CVCC, which is reanalyzed as CVC C. The second mora has no head 
  		vowel features, resulting in the insertion of ɨ
Example 2:
		thab --> tɨhab 	
		thab is analyzed as C CVC. The first moral has no head vowel features and so 
		there is insertion of ɨ

Last modified 2003/11/30 19:31.