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Syllabic and moraic structures in Piro

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 November 2002

Yen-Hwei Lin
Michigan State University


Syllable structure in Piro, an Arawakan language spoken in Eastern Peru, exhibits properties that are of considerable interest. First, Piro allows three-consonant clusters in the syllabic onset (Matteson 1965) but a vowel-deletion rule is blocked to avoid such clusters, which makes it difficult to simply attribute the blocking to well-formedness constraints on syllable structure (cf. Kisseberth 1970a, b). Second, the onset consonant clusters are not governed by the Sonority Sequencing Principle (Selkirk 1984a, Clements 1990). The fact that all consonants except the prevocalic ones are described by Matteson (1965) as syllabic seems to obviate the need to posit complex onsets. However, these syllabic consonants do not participate in any phonological rules, including word stress and phrase-level rhythmic rules. If they are considered extrasyllabic throughout the phonology, they become exceptions to our general conceptions of extra-prosodicity, stray erasure and prosodic licensing (Itô 1986, 1989), since numerous such extrasyllabic consonants are not at the peripheral position of a well-defined domain but persist to be present throughout the derivation. Third, loss of an onset or unsyllabified consonant can lead to compensatory lengthening (henceforth CL), contradicting the moraic conservation account of CL (Hock 1986, Hayes 1989). Fourth, as Piro has no underlying long segments nor evidence for a heavy closed syllable, it becomes a counterexample to the typological prediction that CL occurs only in languages that have a pre-existing vowel-length contrast (de Chene & Anderson 1979) or syllable-weight contrast (Hayes 1989).

Research Article
© 1998 Cambridge University Press

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An early analysis of Piro syllable structure and vowel deletion was presented at the 17th Conference of the North East Linguistic Society at MIT in 1986 and appeared in the proceedings (Lin 1987). The first analysis of Piro compensatory lengthening was presented at the 1988 Linguistic Society of America Annual Meeting in New Orleans. A revised analysis was presented in 1994 at the 13th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics at the University of California, San Diego, and published as Lin (1995). The issues on moraic licensing and stray erasure were presented at the 1st Mid-Continental Workshop on Phonology held at Ohio State University in 1995. I thank the audiences at these conferences for their comments. At the early stages in the development of my work on Piro, I benefited from discussions with Juliette Blevins, John Kingston and Armin Mester. I am especially grateful to three anonymous reviewers of Phonology for their valuable comments and suggestions, which led to considerable improvement in both the content and the presentation of the paper.