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Berber is an Afro-Asiatic family spoken in large parts of North Africa stretching from the Atlantic to the oasis of Siwa in Western Egypt. It is spoken by substantial numbers of people in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Mauritania, Mali, and Niger. In the current project, we aim to document, analyse, and model particular aspects of the phonological systems of these two varieties:

  • Tashlhiyt (PIs Martine Grice, Rachid Ridouane)
  • Zwara (PI Carlos Gussenhoven)

In addition to the typologically common syllables with vocalic nuclei V, CV, VC, and CVC, these Berber varieties have consonant-only syllables C, CC, CC, and CCC (syllable nuclei are underlined). Syllabification in Tashlhiyt has been the subject of a number of studies (e.g., Dell and Elmedlaoui 1985, 2002, Ridouane 2008). According to Dell and Elmedlaoui (1985, 1988, 2002), every segment type can function as syllable nucleus except for semivowels, and syllabification is mainly determined by relative sonority.

These languages exhibit particularly long consonantal sequences. This is illustrated in (1) which is composed solely of obstruents.

(1)       /t-bdg-t/          (2-be wet-2s)      ‘you are wet’

However, these consonantal sequences often appear on the phonetic surface with transitional vocoids which have a schwa-like quality. For Tashlhiyt, it has been argued that these elements are merely articulatory artifacts and have no phonological relevance (Dell and Elmedlaoui 1985, 2002; Ridouane 2008; Fougeron and Ridouane 2008; Ridouane and Fougeron 2011; although see Coleman, 2001, for an alternative view). However, there is variation in the phonological status of these vocalic elements across, and to some extent even within, languages in this family. In some varieties, including Zwara, phonological schwa coexists with non-phonological vocoids.

From the point of view of the intonational prosody, these Berber languages are of great importance. Due to their rare phonotactic patterns, the phonetic opportunity they afford for the execution of intonational pitch movements is exceptionally limited.