The prosodic structure of Latvian

A. Krisjanis Karins, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation investigates the rhythmic and melodic structure of standard Latvian, which has a system of syllable intonations independent of the metrical structure of the language. Latvian can thus be classified as a semi-tonal language which is between a pitch-accent language and a purely tonal language. The investigation of the prosodic structure is based upon empirical data gathered and analyzed using techniques of experimental phonetics, and builds upon earlier linguistic work on Latvian conducted primarily within the tradition of Latvian philology. The analysis of the data is conducted within the generative frameworks of Optimality Theory and autosegmental phonology. The phonology of Latvian distinguishes "long" syllables from "heavy" ones. Whereas metrically long syllables can influence the duration of voiceless obstruents, only metrically heavy syllables can be associated with lexical tones. This division of syllable types justifies a two-layer moraic analysis of the language. The metrical structure of the language ideally builds two feet or one colon per word, with the addition that the main word stress is associated with a H tone. Of the three syllable intonations--level, falling, and broken--only the falling and broken are lexically specified for tone. The level intonation is lexically unspecified, and its tonal contour is dependent upon the presence or absence of a stress-induced H tone. Thus, although the metrical and tonal systems are independent in the language (every heavy syllable has a syllable intonation regardless of stress), they nevertheless interact insofar as the metrical H tone influences the tonal contours of all three syllable intonations.

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Recommended Citation

Karins, A. Krisjanis, "The prosodic structure of Latvian" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9627943.