The Synchronic and Diachronic Phonology of Nauruan: Towards a Definitive Classification of an Understudied Micronesian Language
Date of Degree
Comparative and Historical Linguistics | Language Description and Documentation | Linguistics | Micronesian Studies | Pacific Islands Languages and Societies | Phonetics and Phonology
Nauru, Nauruan Language
Nauruan is a Micronesian language spoken in the Republic of Nauru, a small island nation in the central Pacific. Lack of data and difficulty in analysis has hindered progress in better understanding Nauruan for decades, particularly regarding its phonology and its classification within the Micronesian family. Because of these challenges, earlier researchers have presented their work on Nauruan as highly tentative. This dissertation establishes more confident analyses of Nauruan phonology, sound change and classification, which have been made possible through original fieldwork.
Approximately one hundred hours of digital recordings have been collected as part of this research, including wordlists, phrases, narratives, and spontaneous speech and conversation. Seventeen individual Nauruan speakers contributed to this work. This diverse body of data has allowed for much needed insight into the Nauruan language and its relation to the other Micronesian languages.
A revised Nauruan phoneme inventory is proposed and a range of associated phonological processes are identified and discussed. Particular attention is paid to the phonetics of Nauruan speech sounds, including articulatory and acoustic properties of consonants and vowels. Also included is an analysis of Nauruan stress and prosody. Nauruan is shown to have a weight-sensitive stress system, as is typical of Micronesian languages.
The prevailing view on Nauruan classification has been that it is a Micronesian language that should be classified apart from all other members of the family. This classification is based on little Nauruan data and should be reevaluated. To this end, this dissertation compiles nearly 300 lexical comparisons and shows regular sound correspondences between Nauruan, Proto‑Micronesian and individual Micronesian languages. Additionally, a range of Nauruan morphological paradigms are shown to have parallels across the Micronesian family. The analysis supports classifying Nauruan as a Micronesian language but has produced no compelling evidence for classifying Nauruan apart from the nuclear Micronesian group. As such, the nuclear/non-nuclear distinction within the family appears to be unnecessary. The evidence suggests that all Micronesian languages, including Nauruan, have descended from Proto-Micronesian. Possible classifications for Nauruan within the Micronesian family are discussed and evaluated. Several stages of pre‑Nauruan are also reconstructed, which suggests that Nauruan has undergone a significant degree of internal sound change. This may have contributed to earlier perceptions of Nauruan as a non-nuclear Micronesian language.
Hughes, Kevin, "The Synchronic and Diachronic Phonology of Nauruan: Towards a Definitive Classification of an Understudied Micronesian Language" (2020). CUNY Academic Works.
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