Phonological Alternations

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Phonological alternations in Sereer are differently characterized depending on the portion of the word they occur in. On the one hand, Sereer has stems that are fairly invariant in size, almost exclusively alternating by way of morphologically determined consonant mutation of initial (or sometimes final) segments. On the other hand, affixes (and especially verbal suffixes) have phonologically determined allomorphs that alternate between the segmental shapes -VC and -C, seemingly motivated by an avoidance of overlong consonant clusters and hiatus. There is a trade-off in phonological content, then, between invariance in terms of shape (in stems, whose segments do change) and invariance in terms of segments (in affixes, whose shape does change).

Contents

Consonant Mutation

Sereer exhibits a system of consonant mutation by which the initial consonant of a stem can alternate. There are three "grades" of consonants, and each is triggered by specific morphological environments, both nominal and verbal.

Unmutated (I) p t c k q b d j g f s x w r ɓ ɗ ƴ m n ñ ŋ l y ʔ
Fortition (II) p t c k q p t c k p c/s q/k b t ƥ ƭ ƈ m n ñ ŋ l y ʔ
Nasal (III) p t c k q mb nd nj ng mb nj/s nq/ng mb nd ƥ ƭ ƈ m n ñ ŋ l y ʔ

The "split" mutation patterns of /s/ and /x/ are described below.

Verbal mutation

Verb roots appear in unmutated grade when agreeing with a singular subject, and nasal grade when agreeing with a plural subject.

Stem Singular Plural
weʄ
to swim
a weʄa
S/he swims
a mbeʄa
They swim
disoox
to sneeze
a disooxa
S/he sneezes
a ndisooxa
They sneeze
ɗok
to grind
a ɗoka
S/he grinds
a ƭoka
They grind
lool
to cry
a loola
S/he cries
a loola (yoo)
They cry
coox
to hand/give
a cooxa
S/he gives
a cooxa (yoo)
They give

Nominal mutation

For nouns, each noun class triggers a specific grade of consonant mutation.

(list them)

(examples)

There are numerous exceptions to the fact that each noun class enforces a single mutation grade; however, the vast majority of these are recently borrowed words.

Diminutives and Augmentatives

Diminutives and augmentatives are exceptional in that the voiceless stops become prenasalized voiced stops, and /s/ always becomes /nj/.

Stem Morphophonology

Sereer has salient alternations in the initial consonants of noun and verb stems. These alternations appear to be morphologically conditioned in a lexically specified manner, since they occur in several different segmental contexts whose only common element is being within a morphologically derived environment (e.g. plurality in both nouns and verbs; addition of apparent nominalizing suffixes to verbs).

Standard nominal mutation

With one exception (the alveolar fricative s), the standard nominal mutation pattern is between homorganic segments. Voiced modal stops, prenasalized stops, and fricatives become voiceless modal stops; voiced implosives become voiceless implosives; labial and alveolar approximants /w/ and /r/ become voiced and voiceless modal stops, respectively. All other consonants are invariant and do not undergo standard nominal mutation.

Source consonant class Mutated consonant Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
fricative voiceless stop f > p s > c x > q, k
prenasalized stop voiceless stop mb > p nd > t nj > c ng > k nq > q
voiced stop voiceless stop b > p d > t j > c g > k
alveolar approximant voiceless stop r > t
voiced implosive voiceless implosive ɓ > ƥ ɗ > ƭ ʄ > ƈ
labial approximant voiced stop w > b
voiceless stop - p t c k q '
voiceless implosive - ƥ ƭ ƈ
palatal/lateral approximant - l y
nasal - m n ñ ŋ
The consonant s is a partial exception to the regularity of the standard nominal mutation, as it is sometimes invariant and sometimes not. When it alternates (on a lexically-determined basis), it does so with the voiceless palatal stop c. The consonant x also has two possible mutations, to /k/ and /q/. See S and X Alternations for more information.

The standard nominal mutation is most commonly seen in the singular-plural alternations of nouns in most noun classes. For all noun classes except the ox/w and al/ak classes, plural number is indicated by the mutation of the initial consonant of the noun stem, as well as the initial consonant of stems of any adjectives. For the ox/w class, it is the singular number that is indicated by this mutation, with the plural number evincing the basic form of the stem.

Gloss Noun class Noun Adjective ('white') Det.
pig
pigs
l
ak
ruul
atuul
ran
atan
le
ake
rabbit
rabbits
n
k
ndool
tool
ndan
tan
ne
ke
woman
women
ox
w
otew
rew
oran
tan
oxe
we
trip
trips
al
ak
atex
atex
atan
atan
ale
ake

Final implosive mutation in eventive nominals

The deverbal derivational process that forms eventive nouns is notable for undergoing both standard nominal mutation of the initial verb stem segment and standard nominal mutation of the final verb stem segment if this final segment is an implosive. For instance, the verb stem guuɗ 'to steal' has the derived eventive nominal form kuuƭ 'theft' (169). This appears to be a normal application of standard nominal mutation, but with an unusual site of application.

Prenasalized nominal mutation

With one exception (the alveolar fricative s), the prenasalized nominal mutation pattern is between homorganic segments. Voiced and voiceless modal stops and fricatives become prenasalized stops, as do the labial and alveolar approximants /w/ and /r/; voiced implosives become voiceless implosives. All other consonants are invariant and do not undergo prenasalized nominal mutation, including the glottal stop.

Source consonant class Mutated consonant Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
fricative prenasalized stop f > mb s > nj x > ng, nq
voiced stop prenasalized stop b > mb d > nd j > nj g > ng
voiceless stop prenasalized stop p > mb t > nd c > nj k > ng q > nq '*
labial/alveolar approximant prenasalized stop w > mb r > nd
voiced implosive voiceless implosive ɓ > ƥ ɗ > ƭ ʄ > ƈ
prenasalized stop - mb nd nj ng nq
voiceless implosive - ƥ ƭ ƈ
palatal/lateral approximant - l y
nasal - m n ñ ŋ
*The glottal stop, unlike other voiceless stops, is invariant.
Unlike under the standard nominal mutation, the consonant s always undergoes the prenasalized nominal mutation, to the palatal prenasalized stop nj. /x/ varies; see S and X Alternations for details.

The prenasalized nominal mutation is seen in the augmentative (gal/gak) and diminutive (ong/fn) derivational noun classes, as well as in adjectives in the f and n singular noun classes.

Gloss Class Noun Adjective ('white') Det.
pig
pig (DIM)
pig (AUG)
l
ong
gal
ruul
onduul
ganduul
ran
ondan
atan
le
onge
ale
pigs
pigs (DIM)
pigs (AUG)
ak
fn
gak
atuul
fonduul
ganduul
atan
fondan
andan
ake
ne
ake
cat n muus ndan ne
snake f fangool fandan fe

Prenasalized verbal mutation

Verb stems undergo what will be called the prenasalizing verbal mutation of the stem-initial consonant as a form of inflection for plural subject. As with the other mutation types, "nasalization" is understood to include a parallel mutation in initial voiced implosives that produces voiceless implosives. Only initial consonants that can mutate actually do mutate; the same class of invariant consonants (/l/, /y/, and the nasals) fail to undergo mutation. Verbs that cannot accept this plural inflection due to starting with an inert initial consonant are often disambiguated from singular forms with the addition of a suffix (or clitic?) -o. This is distinct from the equative copular =oo (see Predication Strategies).

Note that this mutation is preserved as an intrinsic element of the stem when the otherwise uninflected stem is completely reduplicated in predicative constructions.

Unlike the nasalizing mutation seen in augmentative/diminutive nouns, voiceless stops do not mutate to voiced prenasalized stops in verbs. Because verbs in their un-mutated (singular) forms do not begin with voiceless implosives or prenasalized stops, these rows are not shown in the table below.

Source consonant class Mutated consonant Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
voiceless stop - p t c k (q) '
voiced stop prenasalized stop b > mb d > nd j > nj g > ng
voiced implosive voiceless implosive ɓ > ƥ ɗ > ƭ ʄ > ƈ
labial/alveolar approximant prenasalized stop w > mb r > nd
fricative prenasalized stop f > mb s > s, nj * x > nq, ng *
palatal/lateral approximant - l y
nasal - m n ñ ŋ

No verb stems are attested with an initial q-; this is likely an accidental gap.
* Words in /s-/ and /x-/ mutate consistently to one of the two indicated segments. Although generally consistent for a given word, the choice of mutated segment is not predictable. See S and X Alternations for more information.

Examples:

Stem Singular Plural
weʄ
to swim
a weʄa
S/he swims
a mbeʄa
They swim
disoox
to sneeze
a disooxa
S/he sneezes
a ndisooxa
They sneeze
ɗok
to grind
a ɗoka
S/he grinds
a ƭoka
They grind
lool
to cry
a loola
S/he cries
a loola(yo)
They cry

Postverbal Affixes

A number of postverbal affixes exhibit a morphophonological alternation between a -VC and -C form. The -VC form appears between consonants, or after a consonant at the end of word, and the -C form appears elsewhere. This is consistent with Sereer phonotactics in that it generally prevents CCC sequences.

1st sg. subject: -(u)m

gef-aa-m 'I break'
vs.
gef-aa-n-um 'I break it'

2nd sg. object: -(o)ng

3rd sg. object: -(i)n

Causative: -(i)n

Reciprocal: -(i)r

Ablative: -(i)k

Instrumental applicative: -(i)t

Reversive: -(i)t

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