SRPP: The phonology of Zwara Berber and its silent stress

Berber is a typological treasure chest. While it has a conventional Afro-Asiatic syllable structure, the distribution of its segments over syllable positions is striking. In this talk, I will illustrate this on the basis of the dialect spoken in Zwara (Zuwarah), a coastal city in western Libya. While vowels only occupy syllable peaks, consonants appear in both C-positions and V-positions without exception. Since both /j w/ and /i u/ exist, this means that vowels and glides contrast in syllable peaks. In addition, it has geminate versions of all consonants. While always requiring a mora, geminates can appear in nearly all positions in syllable structure. Notably, they cannot appear in an onset-plus-peak position, making the beginning of the syllable rime an unbridgable boundary for them.

A frequent location for geminates is the rime-plus-onset location, whereby the rime favours a vowelless first half of the geminate. Rimes do not contrast /əC/ and /C/, where the realization of [ə] depends on the type of C, with voiceless obstruents typically lacking a preceding schwa. These first halves of geminates frequently occur in the stressed syllable, so that many words have ‘silent stress’. For instance, in /a.ˈ ‘humid period’ and /m.ˈmˁχ.χrˁ/ ‘late’ the stressed syllables are /ws/ and  /mˁχ/ respectively, where the obstruent is the syllable peak. The voicelessness of the syllable peak and the following onset will interrupt the f0 contour at a point where a pitch peak is expected.

A question that arises is whether speakers apply ‘segmental intonation’, a shift in the spectrum of voiceless fricative and plosive bursts, detected by Oliver Niebuhr in German. To this end, we recorded four repetitions of 12 words with /χ f s ʃ k q/ in stressed position in four carrier sentences intended to elicit three intonation conditions and a stress shift condition. In addition, we added one word as a control condition for word-final stressed /s/, a situation in which Niebuhr found ‘segmental intonation’ effects between declaratives and interrogatives. Each of the friction portions in words with /χ f s ʃ/ was segmented into three equal parts (giving 4 repetitions x 9 words x 3 friction portions x 4 conditions = 432 friction segments, while the bursts of /k q/ were segmented (4 repetitions x 4 words x 4 conditions = 64, or 496 friction/burst portions in all). These were rated for perceived pitch in an AX task using a 7-point scale by five judges in a pilot experiment. Results show segmental intonation effects that indicate these are non-automatic.