Graduation Semester and Year




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Linguistics



First Advisor

Colleen M Fitzgerald


This dissertation describes the segments and tones of Soyaltepec Mazatec, an Oto-Manguean language of southern Mexico virtually undescribed in the literature with the exception of Pike (1956). The preliminary work done by Pike and subsequent analyses by Goldsmith (1990) and Pizer (1994) are reviewed giving evidence that the system is complex and not easily explained. Documentation of the segments of the language as well as a more complete documentation of the tonal system has significance for language preservation, comparative Oto-Manguean studies, and for phonological theories of tone. This paper presents original field data gathered by the author during visits to Oaxaca Mexico, and describes the phonetic and phonological patterning for segments and tones, as well as presenting an analysis for the tone sandhi. The author's research reveals that Soyaltepec Mazatec contains 17 consonant phonemes and 5 vowel specifications which contrast for nasality. The phonological processes that occur are described as well as the intricacies of the co-occurrence of phonemes within the syllable which are shown to be vital in determining the nature of the syllable onsets. Four levels of tone are confirmed to occur lexically as well as five rising and two falling tones. The tonal processes include the transfer of tones between morphemes as well as the spread of a low register to the end of a phonological domain. These processes are autosegmental in nature; however, because the language makes use of four levels of tone, the one-dimensional tonal representations which are traditionally used are expanded using Register Tier Theory (RTT). Although RTT has not been widely adopted, it is shown to be not only useful but necessary as a framework to describe four distinct levels of tone while still allowing the flexibility of independent feature spreading which accounts for the processes that occur in a straightforward, insightful and predictive manner. It has been suggested that Mesoamerican tone languages do not fit nicely into the typical tonal typology that divides tone languages into African and Asian types. Soyaltepec Mazatec has the inventory of an Asian tone language with tones which are strongly attached to their lexical TBU while at the same time exhibiting processes that are African. It has contour tones that are sequential in nature, floating tones, downstep and widespread spreading. Furthermore, tone is important both in the lexicon and in the grammar of the language. All of these characteristics are prototypical of African systems. Soyaltepec Mazatec does not fit into either tonal classification; it is a combination of the two. The traditional tonal bicameral typology should not be viewed as rigid, exclusive categories. Un-analyzed tonal languages need to be investigated without typological presumptions.


Linguistics | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Degree granted by The University of Texas at Arlington

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