Somali wordhood and its relationship to prosodic structure

Christopher R. Green, Michelle E. Morrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Previous “one tone per word” analyses of Somali wordhood fall short in a number of ways due to the morphological and prosodic complexity of the language. While the presence of a single accentual high tone is generally a good diagnostic for prosodic wordhood in the language, it is a poor predictor of grammatical wordhood. In this paper, we aim to refine the criteria needed to define both. We explore the culminative role played by tonal accent in the formation of prosodic words and the contributions of morphosyntactic and phonological phenomena in defining larger phrases that are sometimes considered single words in the language. We explore positive and negative correlations between prosodic and grammatical wordhood, and in doing so, we find that the differing accentual behavior of Somali words depends largely on the prosodic structure of their constituent morphemes and the position of these morphemes on a wordhood cline. We illustrate that while each maximal prosodic word in the language exhibits one tone, a minimal prosodic word is better defined in terms of its accentual properties. In addition, while prosodic and grammatical wordhood often align with one another, grammatical wordhood cannot be unambiguously defined based on tone or accent location.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-32
Number of pages30
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Cushitic
  • Grammatical word
  • Prosodic word
  • Prosody
  • Somali
  • Wordhood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics


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