Date of Award

Spring 2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

David S. Rood

Second Advisor

Rebecca Scarborough

Third Advisor

Laura Michaelis-Cummings


This thesis provides a comprehensive account of the intonational phonology of Lakota, an indigenous North American language of the Siouan family. Lakota is predominantly a verb final language, characterized by complex verbal morphology. The phonological description of Lakota intonation and prosody presented here is based on acoustic analysis of speech data collected from native speakers. The framework of analysis adopts the fundamental tenets of the autosegmental-metrical approach to intonation as originally formulated by Pierrehumbert (1980) and later reformulated and extended by Pierrehumbert & Beckman (1988), Ladd (2009), and others. The dissertation is organized into two major interrelated parts, the first dealing with the tonal and the second with the prosodic properties of Lakota.

The tonal part provides an analysis of the major pitch events in Lakota utterances. I describe the types of pitch accents, their distribution inside phrases with different lengths and structures, and the alignment of these pitch events with respect to the segmental tier. I also provide an analysis of the types of pitch events that occur at the edges of phrases. The description of the intonational events is based on a corpus of declarative and interrogative utterances drawn from narratives and semi-spontaneous speech that sample different speakers, from two different time periods. The results show that the core tone in a pitch accent event in Lakota consists of a high (H) tonal target which can be followed and/or preceded by a low (L) pitch. The majority of accentual high peaks in Lakota are realized within the boundaries of lexically stressed syllables. The trailing L tone, if present, usually occurs in the space of one or two syllables after the stressed syllable. The analysis of the edge tones reveals that Lakota utterances contain boundary tones and intermediate phrase accents. I explore the types of boundary tones and show that the phrase accent is frequent and robust, although there is variation across speakers and genre in terms of the types of phrase accents that are used. I conclude the tonal analysis by considering two prominent aspects of pitch scaling in Lakota phrases. The first is the phenomenon of downstep and the second is the observation of sudden, and extreme, pitch span compressions. I show that these scaling events apply locally at specific points in an utterance.

The prosodic part of the dissertation is primarily an acoustic and impressionistic phonetic analysis that yields evidence in favor of levels of prosodic structure in Lakota. I provide a detailed description of the segmental and suprasegmental cues associated with the perception of boundary strengths between adjacent words in phrases. This phonetic analysis shows that Lakota utterances can be organized into three levels of supra-lexical prosodic structure: the Intonational Phrase, the Intermediate Phrase, and the Prosodic (phonological) Word. I consider the phenomenon of downstep from the tonal analysis in light of the proposed prosodic structure and show that the application of pitch scaling events is constrained by the prosodic organization. In the final part of the analysis I discuss a few ways in which speech rate and morpho-phonological length influence prosodic phrasing. In particular, I examine the phrasing of several post-verbal enclitics based on the outcomes of a small experimental study. The results show that utterances in Lakota can contain complex prosodic domains. Although the thesis arrives at some interesting theoretical conclusions, it leaves open a number of issues for future research.