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An analysis of Bribri phonology (Chibchan) in typological perspective: nasality and contour geminate

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Scientific framework and objectives

Bribri is a Chibchan language spoken in Costa Rica (Central America). Chibchan languages form the main family of the Intermediate Area (Constenla 1991), which links Mesoamerica to the Amazonian and the Andean regions. All of them are endangered and are still under described.

This dissertation provides an analysis of Bribri phonology (Schlabach 1974; Wilson 1974; Constenla 1981; Jara 2004) problematized according to its typological characteristics:

(i) The nasal system: Bribri is among the few languages in the world to lack distinctive nasal consonants. The nasal consonants present in the output result from nasal harmony (Cohn 1993; Walker 1998, 2001) and hypervoicing through velopharyngeal opening (Iverson & Salmons 1996; Solé 2009). While the first process has been partially described for Bribri (Wilson 1970; Constenla 1982, 1985; Tohsaku 1987), the second has not been individuated in the language.

(ii) The consonant /tk/: the consonant /tk/ is a distinctive unit which combines two places of articulation. Contrary to what has been previously described (Lehmann 1920; Schlabach 1974; Wilson 1974; Constenla 1981; Jara 2004), it is not a doubly articulated consonant. I propose to analyse it as a contour geminate consonant (based on the concept of contour segment, Sagey 1990).

Following Ohala’s pioneering work (1975, 1981, 1983), this work is based on the assumption that phonological structures must be explained by phonetic constraints. More specifically, I use the Articulatory Phonology frame (Browman & Goldstein 1986, 1989). The analysis is based on acoustic data collected among two Bribri communities, between 2012 and 2014 (Bajo Coen - Coroma and Amubre).

Along the typological and phonetic approach, I have adopted a dialectal and diachronical point of view to better capture the phonological system of the language.


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