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Prosody and cohesion in
Ékegusií (Kisii) narrative
Daniel W. Hieber
University of California, Santa Barbara
Research supported by NSF GRFP Grant No. 1144085
Hieber, Daniel W. 2017. Prosody and cohesion in Ékegusií (Kisii) narrative. Talk presented at the 26th Annual Linguistics
Symposium, April 12, 2017 at California State University, Fullerton.
What is prosody?
•tempo / rhythm
•voice quality / phonation
•What do these things have
to do with one another?
What goes on the list?
“there is no way of knowing ahead of time how the phonetic
features loosely referred to as “prosodic” – pitch, duration, and so
on – are going to be put to phonological use in any given language.”
(Himmelmann & Ladd 2008: 253)
The phonetic cues that signal phonemic distinctions in one
language may have purely prosodic functions in another, and vice
How does one decide when a given linguistic feature is functioning
prosodically or not?
The set of phonetic and phonological cues that speakers use to
give cohesion to their discourse, by signaling the transitions
from one unit of discourse to the next, the relations that hold
between those units, and their relative prominence.
Prosody is fundamentally a discourse phenomenon•
Prosody is a tool that speakers use to structure their speech•
(but not the only tool •– works in tandem with morphosyntax)
Map taken from Nash (2011)
Ékegusií (Kisii; Bantu, Niger-Congo)
Endangered language of southwest Kenya•
Few speakers under •30
2.2 •million ethnic Gusii people, ~600,000 speakers
Surrounded by Nilotic languages•
Tonal: H vs. L tone (L orthographically unmarked)•
Data: •24 folktales; lexical database with audio (14,000
Pauses in a single text
Introduction of narrative
and participants Complicating
toward climax Climax
ndo ɛ́gatɛ́ɛ́b rɛɛrɔ ígo íngch kgɛnda íntɛ́gɛ́
lion it.said today so I.am.going to.go I.trap
[end#ɛ́ɣatɛ́ɛ́β ɾɛɛɾɔ́#ɣó#ŋgtʃá kɔɣɛɛndá#ntɛ́ɣɛ́]
‘The lion said, “Today I’ll go and lay a trap.”’
índr monto gooch ria chínchg chínɛ́
I.see person who.goes to.eat ground.nuts my
‘[…] so that I see who comes to eat my ground nuts.’
Lack of vowel elision at transition into
Lack of pitch reset indicating narrative
Lexical repetition without isotony
Isotony without lexical repetition
Isotony across multiple phrases
•The day came that the invited visitors came.
•The food was prepared there.
•The meats were there.
•The breads were there.
•The mandazi [donuts] were there.
•People ate and drank sodas.
•These people drank tea with mandazi.
•They rejoiced and sang well.
•It reached the evening.
Prosody as Cohesion
Avoids problems with the list approach•
Oers a language•-general functional denition of prosody
which helps identify when a phonetic feature is being used
prosodically, and when it is not
Provides a framework for future typological studies of •
Himmelman•, Nikolaus P. & D. Robert Ladd. 2008. Prosodic
description: An introduction for eldworkers.
Documentation & Conservation
Nash, Carlos. •2011.
Tone in Ekegusii: A description of
nominal and verbal tonology
. Ph.D. dissertation, Department
of Linguistics, University of California, Santa Barbara.