Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Andrew Cowell

Second Advisor

Rebecca Scarborough

Third Advisor

David Rood


The Arapaho language (one of the Plains Algonquian languages of the Algic family) is traditionally claimed to be a pitch-accent language, meaning that prominence is marked exclusively or mainly by modulation of fundamental frequency (Goddard 2001, Cowell 2008). The main goal of the current research was to experimentally establish the phonetic difference between accented and accentless vowels in Arapaho. The present study assesses Arapaho prominence with six acoustic variables: pitch peak of the target vowel (F0, fundamental frequency) and average pitch throughout the target vowel, which are measured in Hertz (Hz); amplitude peak and average amplitude throughout the vowel (in dB); duration (in ms), and spectral quality of the vowel (peripheral versus central, i.e. precision of articulation, F1, F2, F3). Contrary to the traditional analysis of this language, Arapaho can hardly be called a pitch-accent language. While accent in short vowels is marked with significantly higher fundamental frequency and higher amplitude, accent in long vowels is cued by longer duration. From the phonetic point of view, Arapaho functions more like a stress-accent system that deploys a set of phonetic cues to mark prominence. Phonologically, prominence in Arapaho does not function like stress in the traditional interpretation of the term – the system exhibits severe breaches of the principle of culminativity. At the same time, I show that accent in Arapaho might function very much like accent in stress systems in that it is a morpho-lexical feature; the accent shifts depending on morphemic, morphological, and lexical properties. The data presented in the study call for a revision of the notion of stress-accent systems in the typology of prosodic systems.