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Vowel reduction and deletion in Palauan

This study investigates vowel reduction, as in (1) and vowel deletion, as in (2) in the Palauan language. These have been observed and discussed in several previous studies, but there are limited examinations in the framework of the Optimality Theory (OT). A comprehensive examination of such phenomena in the generative phonology framework occurs in Flora (1984), while an attempt using OT is observed in Zuraw (2003). In Zuraw’s analysis, unstressed vowels delete unless the deletion would create a word- initial triconsonantal cluster, whilst vowel reduction is explained with high-ranking constraints that disprefer sonorous unstressed vowels. However, there are other cases of vowel reduction and deletion that Zuraw fails to account for. Thus, the goal of this study is to further the discussion of Palauan vowel reduction and deletion building on Zuraw’s analysis. All data analysed in this study are taken from Flora (1984).
(1) /mada/ ‘eyes’ [mədál] ‘his eyes’ [mədák] ‘my eyes’ [mədəcám] ‘our eyes’ 
(2) /mada/ - [mád] ‘eyes’ /keri/ - [kér] ‘questions’
Both vowel reduction and deletion are closely related to the stress pattern in Palauan. If a word is unsuffixed, the stress is found on the penultimate stem vowel, whereas if a word is suffixed, the stress is on the rightmost vowel. The stress pattern is accounted for using three markedness constraints: ALIGN (Suffix, R, PrWd, R), NonFinality and GrWd=PrWd.
In general, vowels reduce to schwa when unstressed. Five markedness constraints are thereby proposed corresponding to the five full vowels in Palauan: *Unstressed i, *Unstressed u, *Unstressed e, *Unstressed o, and *Unstressed a. However, there are some cases where unstressed full vowels remain unchanged rather than reducing to schwa, as in (3). One additional markedness constraint *Prefix Stress and a faithfulness constraint Ident-Prefix are helpful in such instances.
(3) /o-lamk/ - [olámk] ‘razor’ /o-lamk-e-k/ - [oləmkék] ‘my razor’
Vowel deletion is observed in two circumstances. First, vowels are deleted word-finally in some cases, as in (2), while in other cases word-final vowels fail to delete, as in (5). Such discrepancies can be justified by proposing five more constraints: *V]#, Align (Stem, R, Foot, L), *Unstressed ə, Max-IO (a/o/e) and Ident-IO. Second, unstressed high vowels are deleted, as in (6), with some exceptions shown in (7). Three more constraints are proposed in this case: Max-u, Max-i, and *Complex Onset.
(5) /m-dobaʔ-a/ - [mədəbəʔá] ‘to halve’ Perfect Middle Inchoative 
(6) /o-rusu-e-k/ - [orsúk] ‘my needle’
     /m-tamik-a/ - [mətəmka ́] ‘to shave’ Perfect Middle Inchoative
(7) /ʔilt-e-k/ - [ʔilték] ‘my ointment’
This study improves upon Zuraw’s work and accounts for cases such as unstressed vowels remaining unchanged, unstressed vowels reducing to schwa even if its deletion would not have produced consonantal clusters, and the deletion of word-final stem vowels. This study serves as a preliminary step for an in-depth investigation of the vowel patterns in Palauan. Furthermore, since the synchronic vowel changes discussed in this study appear to be strikingly similar to the historical vowel changes observed in Blust (2009), this study suggests that the relationship between synchronic and diachronic changes in Palauan warrants further investigation.

Blust, R. (2009). Palauan historical phonology: Whence the intrusive velar nasal? Oceanic Linguistics,
48(2), 307–336.
Flora, J. (1984). Schwa in Palauan. In B. W. Bender (Ed.), Studies in Micronesian Linguistics (pp. 149- 164). Pacific Linguistics.
Zuraw, K. (2003). Vowel Reduction in Palauan Reduplicants. In A. Rackowski & N. Richards (Eds.), Proceedings of the Eighth Annual Meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association (pp. 385–398). Cambridge: MITWPL #44.