UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


UCL Linguistics Seminar Talk - Dr Shigeko Shinohara

23 February 2022, 3:00 pm–5:00 pm

Linguistics seminar

The prosodic structure of initial geminates in Ryukyuan

Event Information

Open to



Richard Jardine

Dr Shigeko Shinohara from the Laboratoire de Phonétique et Phonologie (LPP, CNRS/Sorbonne Nouvelle) will be giving the following talk:

The prosodic structure of initial geminates in Ryukyuan

Abstract: Ryukyuan is a general term for languages spoken in the southern islands belonging to Okinawa and Kagoshima prefectures of Japan and they share the same origin as Japanese. UNESCO recognised six distinct Ryukyuan languages and designated all of them as endangered. The sounds of Ryukyuan exhibit a variety of typologically rare features not seen in Japanese. Some of them have word-initial geminates, glottalised consonants or fricative vowels. This talk focuses on the initial geminates. There is a wide variety of initial geminates across Ryukyuan. For example, the types and lexical items are limited to two in the Naha dialect of Okinawa Ryukyuan (/kkwa/ ‘child’, /ttCu/ ‘person’) while Tedunmuni (a.k.a Taketomi) of Yeayama Ryukyuan has a series of voiceless obstruents in many words (/ppa/ ‘saddle’, /tta/ ‘tongue’, /kkara/, ‘strength’, /ssa/ ‘grass’). The Ikema dialect of Miyako Ryukyuan has more extended voiceless and voiced geminate obstruents (/ttii/ ‘pipe’, /ffa/ ‘child’ /zzu/, ‘fish’, /vva/ ‘you’) along with voiced and half voiceless nasal geminates (/nna/ ‘spiral shell’, /n̥na/ ‘rope’, /m̥mu/ ‘cloud’).
The prosodic affiliation of initial geminates is a problem in standard moraic theories that define mora only as a constituent of a syllable nucleus or a coda. Previous studies have shown that the prosodic weight (light or heavy onset) of initial geminates varies depending on the language. We examined the status of initial geminate consonants in Tedunmuni through pitch-accent patterns, word-minimality phenomenon and phonetic durations. To do this, we recorded five speakers of Tedunmuni (80-89 years old) with a corpus of 85 sentences. Our study confirmed that the word initial geminates of Tedunmuni bear prosodic weight and that a word medial geminate can also form a moraic onset in some variant patterns.
The talk will introduce some basic facts about Ryukyuan languages in the first part and be followed by our study on the prosodic analyses of Tedunmuni initial geminates in the main part. If time permits, we shall discuss the relationship between phonetic properties and the typological rarity of sounds in this and other cases in Ryukyuan.

About the Speaker

Dr Shigeko Shinohara

at Laboratoire de Phonétique et Phonologie (CNRS/Sorbonne Nouvelle)

More about Dr Shigeko Shinohara