The Kaytetye segmental inventory

Mark Harvey*, Nay San, Michael Proctor, Forrest Panther, Myfany Turpin

*Corresponding author for this work

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There are three phonological hypotheses on the Kaytetye segmental inventory. Hypothesis 1 proposes 30 segments: four monophthongs, one diphthong and 25 consonants. Hypothesis 2 proposes 54 segments: two monophthongs and 52 consonants. Hypothesis 3 proposes 55 segments: three monophthongs and 52 consonants. The choice between these three hypotheses has significant implications for models of phonological contrast, phonotactic organization, syllable structure and partial reduplication processes in Kaytetye. We evaluate the three hypotheses against evidence from these domains and find that Hypothesis 1 is the best supported phonological analysis. Companion analysis of the phonetic distribution and functional load of medial Kaytetye monophthong tokens was conducted by phonetically-trained transcribers, and compared with groupings of vowels obtained through unsupervised classification of first and second formant values using finite Gaussian mixture models. Both transcriber-perceived and machine-learnt categorizations agree that none of the four monophthongs are marginal, nor can their qualities be attributed to phonological context effects. These data demonstrate the importance of both phonological and phonetic evidence in evaluating the structure and properties of vowel systems in under-described languages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-68
Number of pages36
JournalAustralian Journal of Linguistics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2023. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • consonant inventory
  • segmental inventory
  • vowel inventory
  • vowel quality
  • Kaytetye
  • Arandic


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