The Disyllabic Word Minimum

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In this article we examine the requirement that the minimal word be a disyllabic trochee being satisfied partially or fully in different ways in three unrelated languages spoken in India, namely, Punjabi, Bangla and Tamil. In Bangla, which does not have a phonemic vowel length distinction and where closed syllables count as bimoraic and heavy attracting prominence, monosyllables whether closed or open invariably have a long vowel. We argue that the monosyllabic lengthening is due to a catalectic syllable making these minimal words ‘virtual’ disyllables. Punjabi has a three-way distinction in syllable weight, a monomoraic light syllable, a bimoraic heavy syllable and a trimoraic superheavy syllable. Following the assumption in the literature, we assume that trimoraic syllables are virtual disyllables. We find that, by and large, monosyllables are trimoraic with a geminate final consonant augmenting the monosyllable to a superheavy status satisfying the disyllabic requirement. Finally, we examine an intriguing pattern of optional, final epenthesis in monosyllables in Tamil, once again arguing for a disyllabic word minimum. Between the three languages, we observe that the disyllabic minimality requirement is met in different ways, exhausting the three logical possibilities of stem augmentation, namely, vowel lengthening (in Bangla), consonant gemination (in Punjabi) and both consonant gemination and vowel epenthesis (in Tamil).


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