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Completing the Typology: Evidence for Floating Segments from Ende

The present data come from fieldwork on Ende, a Pahoturi River language spoken in South Fly, Papua
New Guinea. The phenomenon in question involves a nasal segment that shifts or disappears when
the root occurs in an unaffixed context.
(1) -nduɡ-, duŋɡ eran; -mpəɡ-, pəŋɡ eran; -nʈ͡ʂoɡ-, ͡ʈʂoŋɡ eran; -nzəmae-, zəmae eran1
Zoll’s (1994) analysis for floating features and latent segments shows that language-specific rankings
of general constraints account for and predict their divergent behavior. These features/segments share
a common property of being restricted to a parseable environment. They differ in that some float in
search of a better environment and others are fixed. They also differ in whether they are parsed as
features or as segments. This predicts a typology of four types (Table 1). The languages Chaha and
Yawelmani display three of the four types of latent phonology, but not floating segments. Zoll’s
presentation implicitly suggests that everything that floats is a feature. Ende verbs exhibit nasal
segments that float, filling this gap and completing the typology.

Some Ende verbs carry a floating nasal segment, N, that is left-aligned but floats rightward to
land before an obstruent and agree with it in place, while maintaining syllabic sonority. N never
appears word-initially, even on obstruent initial verbs (e.g., ‘to protect’) to avoid violating onset-
sonority. In Table 2, N appears root-medially (a) and root-initially (b). If a verb only has a root-initial
obstruent (c), an obstruent that follows a consonant (f), or no obstruent (g), N fails to appear, unless
the verb has a suffix with an obstruent, in which case the obstruent is replaced (d, f, h).

The three families of Optimality-Theoretic (Prince & Smolensky, 1994/2008) constraints
SEGMENT STRUCTURE, PARSE-FEATURE, and ALIGN account for the patterns in the Ende data, just as
they did for Chaha and Yawelmani.

(2) a. ALIGN ([N], L, Stem, L): Align the left edge of N with the left edge of the stem.
b. Rationale: N docks on the leftmost obstruent.
(3) a. PARSE-N: N should be parsed.
b. Ranking: PARSE-N » ALIGN-N
c. Rationale: It is better to parse N further to the right than to align N with the left edge.
(4) a. SEGMENT STRUCTURE: “a convenient cover term for the group of undominated constraints
which render certain segment sequences impossible” (Zoll, 1994)
c. Rationale: N will fail to be parsed if it violates segment structure.

If N were a floating feature, it should appear word-initially, like other consonants in the language.
However, this is banned. Further evidence for N’s status as a segment comes from Ende verbal
reduplication. Verb roots appear with and without inflectional affixes (a-h). Table 3 shows that in
non-affixed contexts, monomoraic roots reduplicate (i), while multimoraic roots do not (k).
Monosyllabic roots with N do not reduplicate (m), suggesting the N contributes a mora.

The Ende data presented here fill a gap in the literature on floating and latent phonology. Floating
segments exist and fit in Zoll’s analysis for floating and latent features/segments. [491 words]

An identical pattern shows up in fieldnotes on related Idi (Schokkin 2017): dzoŋg (root -ndzog-) ‘light fire’; dzramb
(root -ndzrab-) ‘come up’

Table 1: Typology of floating/latent phonological patterns
Feature Segment
A feature is realized in a fixed A segment is realized in a fixed position
position only when only when phonotactically licit (or to save a
phonotactically licit. word).


Chaha imperative palatalization Yawelmani suffixes (consonants & vowels)
A feature floats along a word A segment floats along a word until it finds
until it finds an appropriate an appropriate segment, else it fails to
segment, else it fails to surface. surface.


Chaha object labialization (Ende floating nasals)

Table 2: Docking behavior of floating nasal segments
Context ‘to protect’ ‘to follow’ ‘to pull’ ‘to break’
Root-initial a. pəŋɡ c. koɽ-məɽ e. ɲoŋkoe g. ɽoɽom
Prefix-initial b. da-mpəɡ-aeb-eyo d. da-ŋkoɽ-məɽ-aem-eyo f. da-ɲkoe-aem-eyo h. du-ɽom-aem-eyo

Table 3: Monomoraic roots reduplicate, multimoraic and monosyllabic roots with N do not.
Context ‘to take out’ ‘to ask’ ‘to give’
Underlying form i. ɡaz k. ŋonoe m. Nʈ͡ʂog
Infinitival form j. ɡazɡez l. ŋonoe n. ͡ʈʂoŋg (*ʈ͡ʂoŋgʈ͡ʂog)


Prince, A. and P. Smolensky. 2008. Optimality Theoryː Constraint interaction in generative
grammar. John Wiley & Sons.
Schokkin, D. 2017. Idi verbal morphology revisited. Unpublished ms.
Zoll, C. 1994. “Subsegmental Parsingː Floating Features in Chaha and Yawelmani.” Phonology at
Santa Cruz 3, [Rutgers Optimality Archive 29, httpː//]