Challenging Sonority - Cross-linguistic Evidence - Martin J. Ball

Challenging Sonority - Cross-linguistic Evidence - Martin J. Ball

Syllable Structure in Papiamentu and the Sonority Scale

Challenging Sonority - Cross-linguistic Evidence - Martin J. Ball

Yolanda Rivera-Castillo [+-]
Univerity of Puerto Rico
Yolanda Rivera is a full professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras in the PhD program in Creole languages and literature. Her main areas of research include Creole languages, prosodic systems and the PhonologySyntax connection. Her research also comprises other areas of inquiry such as Caribbean Spanish phonology and historical linguistics. She is currently working on the creation of web-based corpora for different Creole languages, such as Papiamentu, Palenquero and Limonese


Papiamentu’s syllable structure includes a large number of syllable types (Blevins 1995). Previous studies recognize six types in this language (Klein 2011:182, Maurer 1998): V, CV, CVC, VC, CCV, and CCVC. Following Levelt and van der Vijver (2004), this places Papiamentu in the Marked III class regarding its syllable structure. However, this language exhibits a larger number of types than the ones reported, including syllables with complex codas (CVCC), matching languages in the Marked IV type, like Dutch. There are words with complex codas that originate in different lexical sources: accent (English), ‘accent’; and Diaweps (Spanish día jueves), ’Thursday’. Moreover, even words of Dutch origin, like heft, ‘to join, to stitch’ (from hechten), exhibit complex codas not attested in the source (Martinus 1997:30). More importantly, some complex onsets and codas in Papiamentu do not comply with the sonority scale. If we take into account melodic features to analyze syllable structure, the description becomes more challenging to current theories of syllabic organization. Complex onsets and codas might consist of the least sonorous segments placed closer to the syllable nucleus: skol, Diaweps. This is attested even in cases in which the lexical sources have onsets and codas tht comply with the sonority scale, indicating that these constitute system internal constraints on the phonotactic organization of melodic features, not exceptions. This study describes syllable structure and melodic composition of onsets and codas in Curaçaoan Papiamentu. The analysis includes spontaneous speech samples for twenty (20) participants, including more than ten (10) hours of conversations with a native speaker. A phonetic description of codas and onsets that do not comply with sonority constraints is the core component of the data analysis. Furthermore, this study compares native performance with that of Spanish-Papiamentu bilingual speakers, as described in previous studies of the Aruban variety (Rivera-Castillo and Andre Mather, forthcoming); and compares Papiamentu onsets with those other Creoles that do not comply with sonority restrictions, such as Sranan (Armstrong 2007). This study provides evidence that supports Klein’s (2011) contention that Creoles can have a large set of syllable types (not just CV). It also demonstrates that sonority is not necessarily a core component in the melodic organization of the syllable.

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Castillo, Yolanda Rivera . Syllable Structure in Papiamentu and the Sonority Scale. Challenging Sonority - Cross-linguistic Evidence. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 219-251 Oct 2016. ISBN 9781781792278. Date accessed: 04 Dec 2023 doi: 10.1558/equinox.25679. Oct 2016

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