Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Donald Ringe


This study investigates the phonological behavior of secondarily post-velarized (‘emphatic’) consonants in Colloquial Moroccan Arabic, focusing primarily on variant pronunciations of the approximant /r/ and the relationship of pharyngeal to uvular articulation. In certain contexts, /r/ independently exhibits phonetic characteristics similar to those of the primary ‘emphatic’ phonemes /ṭ ḍ ṣ/, and for many speakers a combination of borrowing and analogy has extended the context of emphatic variants outside of the original conditioning environment, resulting in a pattern of contrast that approaches phonemic status. Through analysis of interviews with individual speakers, I establish the parameters of phonetic and phonological variation in /r/ and evaluate the phonemic character of these segments through processes associated with phonological emphasis, as well as investigating how post-velar coarticulations in Moroccan Arabic align with uvular and/or pharyngeal place in phonetic and structural terms.

My findings indicate that the rhotic emphasis constrast remains both distributionally and phonetically ambiguous at the level of the individual, and that its variation is not sociolinguistically determined. Furthermore, there is evidence that the ambiguity of the contrast is diachronically stable. I propose that this behavior reflects an underlying representational ambiguity related to the perceptual confusability of uvular and upper pharyngeal place and to the phonetic imprecision of rhotics in general.

The document is structured as follows: first, I provide an overview of work on phonological categories, representational frameworks for ambiguous variants, and post-velar place specification (Chapter 1), then proceed to describe and problematize the relevant phonological phenomena in Moroccan Arabic (Chapter 2). Chapter 3 describes the methods used in fieldwork, data collection and preparation, while Chapters 4 and 5 present the results of my speaker analysis for Fessi Arabic with respect to acoustic correlates of post-velarization spread and rhotic emphasis distributions respectively. Finally, Chapter 6 offers a theoretical framework for interpreting these results and suggests some areas for further research.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."