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On the Prehistory of Nez Perce Vowel Harmony

William H. Jacobsen, Jr.
Language
Vol. 44, No. 4 (Dec., 1968), pp. 819-829
DOI: 10.2307/411901
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/411901
Page Count: 11
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On the Prehistory of Nez Perce Vowel Harmony
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Abstract

Alternative hypotheses regarding the vowel system of Proto-Sahaptian and the transition to the two daughter languages, Nez Perce and Sahaptin, are examined. The proto-language may possibly have had a five-vowel system */i e a o u/, identical to that of Nez Perce, and already showing the same pattern of vowel harmony alternations. But a reconstruction of the vocalic system before the development of vowel harmony, whether or not this predated Proto-Sahaptian, presents several possibilities. A six-vowel system */i ǝ e a o u/ would allow a straightforward development. A suggested three-vowel system is rejected. The possibilities of development from four- or five-vowel systems are examined, but these, while conceivable, are less plausible. Examination of the comparative evidence suggests that Proto-Sahaptian possessed the six-vowel system and may have lacked vowel harmony. Some areal similarities to such a system are noted.

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