Phonotactics

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Syllable Structure

The mimimal Sereer syllable is a consonant followed by a vowel, and the maximal syllable is a long vowel preceded by one consonant and followed by one consonant. Thus, the Sereer syllable template is CV(V)(C). Verb and noun stems are minimally CV(V)C, provided that glottal stop is considered a phonemic unit in Sereer.

Examples of these syllable types are shown below:

  • CV: we def.pl.oxe/we
  • CVV: saa.te 'village'
  • CVC: jik 'buy'
  • CVVC: xoox 'cultivate'

See section "Word Minimality" below for more information.

Permissible Syllable Nuclei

Almost exceptionlessly, Sereer syllables have a vowel as the nucleus. The single known exception is present in the person-marking in procedural verb forms, where a syllabic m= is seen as a variant of the 1SG subject agreement proclitic min=.

In the realm of sound symbolism, it is possible to have lexical items without vowels, for example, fff-fff, sound of wind blowing. However, this syllabicity is unique to ideophones; cross-linguistically, it is quite common for languages' sound symbolic phonologies to be markedly different from the rest of the inventory.

Consonant Clusters

Sereer has no onset or coda clusters. Consonant clusters are permitted across syllable boundaries; as a consequence of the maximal syllable structure, these are limited to C.C sequences.

Vowel Hiatus

Vowel hiatus does not occur in Sereer (except maybe in some loan words) and is clearly resolved through some variety of mechanisms, including vowel deletion, complete assimilation, and glide or glottal stop epenthesis. Across word boundaries, vowel deletion seems to be the only active hiatus resolution strategy.

Vowel deletion and consonant epenthesis, in particular, appear to be mediated both by phonotactic factors and by morphological factors that determine in some way which vowel overrides which other vowel. This is especially the case in the inflectional verbal morphology, which has especially complicated rules regarding hiatus resolution.

Word minimality

There is currently a limited number of verb root shapes attested. They are:

  • CV(V)C
  • CVCV(V)C

Noun stems have the attested shapes (minus noun class/gender markers, of the shape (C)V-). Note that no noun stem attested so far has fewer than two consonants in its stem.

  • CV(V)C
  • CV(V)CV
  • CV(V)CV(V)C(V) etc.

The lexical evidence points to the minimal word in Sereer as being CVC, which happens to match the maximal syllable CVC (as might be expected). Numerous shorter units, of the forms V(V) and CV(V), occur predominantly in the verbal morphology complex, but these have typically been analyzed as clitics rather than as independent words.

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