Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota Session




The concept of floating tones is no longer controversial in tonal analysis; important insights into the morphology of numerous tonal languages have relied on the positing of morphemes that are composed simply of prosodically unlicensed tones. Employing data from three of Africa's four major language families, this paper builds on this notion by recognizing the existence of nontonal floating features -- morphemes composed solely of phonological features that have no segmental support. The first example, from Kanembu (Nilo-Sarahan, Chad), shows that the [+ATR] feature is the sole marker of incompletive aspect in the verb. Again, in Mafa and Podoko (Chadic, Cameroon), certain aspects of the verb are marked by floating labial and palatal features. One of the noun class markers in Aka (Bantu, C.A.R.) consists only of the floating feature [+voice]. And finally, the marker of the completive aspect in Mokulu (Chadic, Chad) is a morpheme that is comprised simply of the feature complex [+voice] and [+high]. In conclusion, after noting that a similar floating feature analysis may be appropriate in other languages such as Ngbaka (Ubangian, Zaire), we consider the general characteristics of floating features as full grammatical morphemes.

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