"Contrast in Manchu Vowel Systems"

B. Elan Dresher and Xi  Zhang

1st International Conference on Manchu Tungus Studies (ICMTS 1),

University of Bonn, August 2000.


Contrast plays an important role in accounting for the patterning of vowel systems in the Manchu languages. The phonological representation of a vowel depends in part on what other vowels it contrasts with. We will show that although Written Manchu /i/ phonetically has advanced tongue root (ATR), it is not contrastively ATR, and hence does not trigger ATR harmony. Similarly, Written Manchu /u/ is phonetically, but not contrastively, labial. We will also argue for a particular way of determining contrastiveness, in terms of a contrastive hierarchy of features. Our analysis of the Written Manchu contrastive hierarchy is further supported by synchronic and diachronic evidence from Spoken Manchu and Xibe.