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The Bilabial Fricatives in Ewe: Innovation or Retention?

Capo, Hounkpati B. C.

Ewe is usually offered as a classical example of a language with a phonemic
contrast between bilabial and labio-dental fricatives.

As more and more datahave become available on neighboring languages, a Gbe unit has been set up
as one of the intermediary nodes between Kwa (ultimately dominated by Niger-Congo via Atlantic-Congo via Volta-Congo) and Eue, such that it also dominates F:m. Gen-Mina, Gun, etc.

The obvious question is whether the famous contrast was attested in Proto-Gbe. While exploring alternative views, the present paper argues that there was a contrast between the antecedents of these sounds, but that the bilabial fricatives, as presently attested in Eue, have been innovated. It also touches upon issues related to the hierarchical representation of features and their contents.

This paper is copyrighted, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) - see A first draft of this paper was read at a meeting of the Tuesday Colloquium at the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics, Cornell University. I am very grateful for comments received at that time, especially from Carol Rosen, Abby Cohn, and Nick Clements. Thanks are also due to the Fulbright Foundation for enabling me to spend a year at Cornell as a Scholar-in-Residence (1990-91).
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