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What is the role of mora in Estonian?

Keywords: phonology, Estonian quantity, moraic consonant, lenis, fortis, foot

The article introduces the main principles of moraic theory and the role of mora in Estonian phonology, also addressing the history of the concept ‘mora’ in theoretical linguistics. In traditional studies of metrics, the term ‘mora’ used to refer to a minimal unit of metrical time (equivalent to a short syllable). Yet according to moraic theory, mora is a unit of phonological structure, a part of the syllable, not just a measure of length. This approach allows to explain the ternary system of Estonian quantity as well as the distinction between syllable-final lenis and fortis obstruents in a straigthforward way, which is, moreover, in good accordance with phonetical facts. Fortis obstruents in Estonian are traditionally described as sequences of two identical consonants. This is problematic because phonetic analysis has detected no consistent rearticulation during fortis obstruents. Such a sequence of identical segments also violates the universal obligatory contour principle. In moraic theory, fortis can be defined as a moraic obstruent and lenis as a non-moraic obstruent. In moraic theory Estonian quantity degrees are described as follows: the stressed syllable of Q3 fills the whole foot, whereas in the case of Q1 and Q2 the foot consists of two syllables.

Külli Prillop (b. 1974), PhD, University of Tartu, Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics, Research Fellow in Estonian Phonology, kulli.prillop@ut.ee

 

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