Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Phonology of Mandan vowels

For those of you interested in the phonology of Mandan, here's a summary of a presentation I recently sat in on.

Jonina Torres presented information about the way Mandan, a Siouan language spoken in North Dakota, differentiates its vowels. She had analyzed a recording of a Mandan speaker to see how the vowels varied in duration. Mandan appears to differentiate vowels in both length and nasalization. The inventory Torres investigaged is /a, a:, ã, ã:, e, e:, i, i:, ĩ, ĩ:, u, u:, ũ, ũ:, o, o:/.

Using a piece of software called Praat, she looked at sonograms and blocked off each vowel for duration. For the most part, short vowels were held for about 0.1s and long vowels were held for 0.2s. This doesn't surprise me given the describers long and short. Torres found two pairs that did not fit the pattern. The first is the distinction between /ã/ and /ã:/. The short /ã/ was held for about 0.25s, and the long /ã:/ was held for about 0.15s. This is odd, since the “short” vowel was in fact longer than the “long” vowel. The other surprise in her data was the variance between /ũ/ and /ũ:/. Short /ũ/ was held for 0.1s, which is in line with the other short vowels. On the other hand long /ũ:/ was held for 0.5s, which was more than twice as long as all the other long vowels, save /ã:/. Concluding, Torres suspected that these variations might be evened out if she sampled a larger data set.