Licensing of Vowel Length in Czech

The Syntax-Phonology Interface

by Markéta Ziková (Author)
©2018 Postdoctoral Thesis 128 Pages


This book presents a morphosyntactic account of vowel length in contemporary Czech. The present approach is strictly decompositional on both the phonological and the morphosyntactic side. It assumes prosodic affixes in contemporary Czech. The focus is on prosodic affixes which realize morphosyntactic parts of diminutives and hypocoristics.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgments
  • Contents
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Vowels Autosegmentalized
  • 2.1 Vowel System of Czech
  • 2.2 Decomposing Vowels: Element Theory
  • 2.2.1 The Basic Pattern /I/-/U/-/A/ and Its Phonetic Spell-Out
  • 2.3 Vowel Length Alternations
  • 2.3.1 Segmental Homonymy
  • 2.3.2 Pure vs. Qualitative Lengthening
  • 2.3.3 Mid-Vowel Length Alternations
  • 2.3.4 Diphthongal Length Alternations
  • 2.4 Morphemic Length Alternations: Prosodic Affixes
  • 3. Length in Hypocoristics
  • 3.1 The Basic Phonological Pattern
  • 3.2 Bethin’s (2003) Templatic Analysis
  • 3.3 Decomposing the Hypocoristics
  • 3.3.1 The Templatic Morpheme: Rewriting of Prosodic Structure
  • 3.3.2 The Morphosyntactic Hierarchy: Closeness over Familiarity
  • 3.4 Closeness-Expressing Hypocoristics
  • 3.4.1 The Gender Pattern
  • 3.4.2 Hypocoristics as Syntactic Compounds
  • 3.4.3 Lengthened Forms
  • 3.4.4 Decomposing Gender: Gender-Ambiguous Names
  • 3.4.5 Feminine Hypocoristics
  • 3.4.6 Interim Summary
  • 3.5 Familiarity-Expressing Hypocoristics
  • 3.6 Suppletive Forms
  • 3.7 Summary
  • 4. Length in Diminutives
  • 4.1 Scheer’s (2003, 2004) Templatic Analysis
  • 4.2 Phonology of Diminutive Suffixes and Diminutive Stems
  • 4.2.1 Evidence That -ek Starts with [e] Lexically
  • 4.2.2 Evidence That -ík Is Not Just Lengthened -ek
  • 4.2.3 Evidence That -ík Starts with [i] Lexically
  • 4.2.4 Length Alternations in Bases: The Gender Asymmetry
  • 4.3 Decomposing the Diminutives
  • 4.3.1 Long vs. Short Diminutive Stems
  • 4.3.2 Against Shortened Stems
  • 4.3.3 The Suffix -ek Is a Fully-Fledged Noun
  • 4.3.4 The Morphosyntactic Hierarchy: Size over Affection
  • 4.3.5 Decomposing the Suffix -ík
  • 4.4 Double Diminutives
  • 4.5 Summary
  • 5. Conclusion
  • References
  • Series Index

← 10 | 11 →

1.  Introduction

Czech has a simple vowel system and each of the vowels has a distinctive length—it is either short or long, as illustrated in the minimal pairs in table (1).1

(1)[i][iː]vir [vir]vír[viːr]‘virus, eddy’
  [u][uː]kur[kur]kůr[kuːr]‘fowl, choir’
  [e][eː]pero[pero]péro[peːro]‘pen, (spiral) spring’
  [o][oː]lože[loʒe]lóže[loːʒe]‘bed, loge’
  [a][aː]lak[lak]lák[laːk]‘lacquer, brine’

In the literature, e.g. Kučera (1961), Petr et al. (1986), Palková (1994), inter alia, Czech short and long vowels are analyzed as having free distribution. This is usually supported by the following claims: (i) vocalic length does not depend on a word stress: long vowels can appear in both stressed and unstressed syllables, (ii) long vowels can appear in any position; in particular, adjacent syllables with long vowels are possible.

As for the relationship between length and stress, it is a widespread phenomenon that long vowels tend to appear under stress, while the appearance of short vowels is stress-independent. In Czech, however, word stress always falls on the first syllable, which can be either long or short. This leads Hayes (1995:102) to claim that Czech is a “quantity-disrespecting syllabic trochee language” (together with, for example, Finno-Ugric languages like Hungarian, Finnish or Estonian). Either short or long vowels are legitimate in unstressed syllables as well. The stress-free distribution of vocalic length can be illustrated by disyllables sharing the same stress profile, i.e., (ˈσσ)PW (PW stands for “prosodic word”). In table ← 11 | 12 → (2), I summarize the four logically possible combinations of long (VV) and short (V) vowels within prosodic words of the type (ˈσσ)PW. To show that morphology plays absolutely no role in the distribution of short/long vowels, the patterns are further divided into two groups according to whether the particular combination is tautomorphemic or heteromorphemic. What we see is that all of the four patterns are readily attested in Czech.2

(2)  tautomorphemicheteromorphemic
  (ˈVV.V)PWrákos[ˈraː.kos]rán-a[ˈraː.na]‘reed, wound’
  (ˈV.VV)PWtalár[ˈta.laːr]ran-á[ˈra.naː]‘robe, early (fem.)’
  (ˈV.V)PWjasan[ˈja.san]pat-a[ˈpa.ta]‘ash tree, heel’
  (ˈVV.VV)PWsárí[ˈsaː.riː]pát-á[ˈpaː.taː]‘saree, fifth (fem.)’

The last row in table (2) illustrates another property traditionally attributed to long vowels in Czech: not only are they stress-independent, they are also position-independent. As a consequence, there are words with two (and even three or four) adjacent long syllables. Some examples of such patterns are shown below.3

(3)3 VVb[iː]d[aː]k[uː]vpl[aː]šť[iː]k[uː]
    ‘scoundrel’s’‘of mantelets’
  4 VVzař[iː]k[aː]v[aː]n[iː]vypoč[iː]t[aː]v[aː]n[iː]
    ‘invocation’ ‘calculation’

As a matter of fact, stress-independence and position-independence are indeed two separate issues, as illustrated in Slovak. In Slovak—like in Czech—stress always falls on the first syllable, which can be either long or short. But unlike Czech, Slovak restricts the distribution of long vowels in adjacent syllables; this vocalic-length-restriction is known as Rhythmic Law; see e.g. Peciar (1946). Table (4) shows the effects of this rule. There are four third-person singular present forms, each containing a root followed by the so-called theme suffix. We can see that the quantity ← 12 | 13 → of the suffix depends on the quantity of the root: if the root is short, the theme is long—and vice versa: long roots are followed by short variants of the themes.

(4) short root – long themelong root – short theme
  hľ[a]d-[aː]‘s/he finds’v[iː]t-[a]‘s/he invites’
  k[a]l-[iː] ‘s/he muddies’kr[aː]t-[i]‘s/he finds’

Yet another restriction on vocalic length (known from many languages) is related to syllable structure: vowel length often correlates with the syllable being open. Closed syllables, on the other hand, tend to be short; see e.g. Odden (2011:466). In Czech, however, no such restriction exists: table (5) demonstrates that closed syllables can be long, both word-finally and word-internally. Moreover, the examples in the second and in the fourth row demonstrate that long vowels appear even in super-heavy syllables, i.e., those closed by two consonants.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (August)
Vowel length Prosodic affixes Diminutives Hypocoristics Nanosyntax
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 126 pp.

Biographical notes

Markéta Ziková (Author)

Markéta Ziková is assistant professor at the Department of Czech Langue at Masaryk University in Brno. Her research interests concern phonology, morphosyntax, and their interplay.


Title: Licensing of Vowel Length in Czech
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