Mo Shuile Togam Suas  
Volume 25 (1), Spring 2004

Edited by
Ilana Mezhevich and Michael B. Dobrovolsky

Palatalization in Lakhota

Corey Telfer

University of Calgary


This paper is an attempt to provide an analysis of palatalization in Lakhota, a process that is marked by some very peculiar phenomena. Both the vowels i and e appear to cause palatalization in Lakhota, but in entirely different environments. This ‘complementary distribution’ has led Shaw (1980) to suggest that this process was once unified and has since been fragmented into two distinct parts. The vowel e only causes palatalization in Lakhota if it is derived from the vowel /a/ by ablaut, a vowel change caused by certain enclitics. A remarkable feature of ablaut is that it is limited to the combination of specific stems with specific enclitics, indicating that it is morphologically regulated. This analysis investigates the historical sources of both ablaut and palatalization, and determines that ablauting /a/ descends from Proto-Siouan *i and *e. Based on Shaw’s suggestion that palatalization was once a unified process, an account of palatalization and ablaut is given for the various stages of the history of Lakhota. This analysis makes use of Vowel Place Theory, Combinatorial Specification and phonologically conditioned allomorphy in order to account for both the historical and the modern data.

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