Making the form fit: Repair strategies in iKalanga loanword phonology

Published in: South African Journal of African Languages
Volume 36, issue 2, 2016, pages: 231–241
DOI: 10.1080/02572117.2016.1252027
Author(s): Andy ChebanneFaculty of Humanities, Botswana, Maxwell KadengeDepartment of Linguistics, School of Literature, Language and Media, South Africa, Chipo PhiliCentre for Communication and Study Skills, Botswana


IKalanga has borrowed extensively from English over a long period of time. The direction of borrowing is largely linked to the sociolinguistic status and role of English, which is regarded as a technologically, culturally and politically prestigious language in Africa in general and Botswana in particular. Some of the significant phonological differences between these two languages are as follows: English allows complex onsets, syllable codas and complex syllable nuclei (long vowels and diphthongs), while iKalanga, like most other Bantu languages, does not. The tense-lax distinction is phonemic in English, while in iKalanga it is not. How does iKalanga deal with these marked structures? Complex onsets and codas are repaired through vowel epenthesis, while complex syllable nuclei are simplified through glide epenthesis. Drawing insights from the constriction-based Feature Geometry (FG) model, it is shown that epenthetic vowels and glides are products of spreading. Our overall analysis employs analytical tools from classical Optimality Theory (OT), the central idea of which is that surface forms of language reflect resolutions of conflicts between competing constraints. OT provides us with descriptive terminology and a theoretical mechanism for a principled and systematic expression of the generalisations presented in this article. We demonstrate the constraint interaction that determines the phonological structure of loanwords in iKalanga.

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