The phonology and inflectional morphology of Cháʔknyá, Tataltepec de Valdés Chatino, a Zapotecan language

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2015-05

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Abstract

This dissertation is a description of the phonology and inflectional morphology of an endangered indigenous language of Mexico stemming from a collaborative research project that places an emphasis on natural language and on describing a language on its own terms. The language described is Tataltepec Chatino (ISO 639-3: cta), a Zapotecan language spoken by fewer than 500 people only in the community of Tataltepec de Valdés in Mexico's Oaxaca state. The language has a complex system of tone in which tone sequences are the crucial morphological element rather than the constituent tones of the tone sequences. The tone system has a slightly peculiar inventory, with the level tones Low, High, and Superhigh rather than Low, Mid, and High in addition to a High-Low contour tone. The tonal system is also notable given the unlinked tone in two tone sequences which only surfaces in particular phonological contexts, but is never displaced from the word it is associated with, unlike canonical floating tones. The segmental phonology shows a language that permits a large number of often very complex onset clusters many of which violate the Sonority Sequencing Principle, but maintains tight restrictions on codas, allowing only a simple coda which can only be filled by one of two consonants in the language. Tataltepec Chatino also has interesting morphological features in its complex systems of verb aspect and person inflection which are instantiated by a system of prefixes and a system of complex paradigmatic alternations which only partially intersect. The language also has an unusual word I analyze as a "pseudoclassifier" which appears to serve some pragmatic functions of numeral classifiers while failing to do any lexical classification.

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