LLI Meeting: Oct 17, 2012

This week we will have Liz Christie give a practice talk entitled “Word-final consonant deletion in Inuktitut speakers”

All languages change through time, and Inuktitut is no exception. Dorais (2010) provides many examples of structural changes that have occurred in Inuktitut in the past century. Our paper investigates a case of phonological change observed in the language of present-day Inuktitut speakers: the deletion of consonants in word-final position. The study focuses on the deletion of the final consonants q, k and t in the verbal agreement suffixes -juq, -juk and -jut, and in the case suffixes -mik, -mit, -mut and -kkut. Oral narratives were collected from 20 Inuktitut speakers living in Ottawa, Canada, whose task was to narrate a wordless picture book called Frog, Where are You? (Mayer, 1969). A second task, an English-to-Inuktitut sentence translation task, specifically elicited case and agreement endings. Preliminary results reveal a strong tendency toward consonant deletion among younger speakers (under 30) with both case and agreement suffixes. Older speakers (over 50), on the other hand, have a higher rate of consonant retention than deletion.

Furthermore, when deletion does occur, it seems to occur more frequently with case endings than verbal suffixes. Further analysis will determine the possible linguistic factors (e.g., phonological or morphological environment) and sociolinguistic variables (including age, dialect, and length of time in the south) that may account for the deletion of word-final consonants. This paper also discusses the implications of consonant loss for morphological diversity and clarity. Finally, possible causes of this phonological change are discussed, including natural language change and intergenerational language attrition.

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