Complementary length in Danish. Why not?


  • Miguel Vázquez-Larruscaín University of South-Eastern Norway


Danish, syllable structure, complementary length, moraic phonology, stød


This paper argues that the Danish coda consonants in kat and tal or the intervocalic obstruents in katte and stokke are, in fact, moraic. First, there is no difference in duration nor the possibility of a phonological contrast between long and short consonants, even in cases of contrast, such as in pen, with stød, versus ven, without. Second, if obstruents cannot be moraic, it is impossible to state important interdependencies between the length of the vowel and the size of consonant clusters in the same syllable, regardless of which major class the first consonant of the cluster belongs to. Similarly, systematic alternations between long and short vowels in pairs like ska[æ:]be – ska[ɑ]bt are arbitrary processes, if obstruents cannot be moraic. Making syllable structure dependent on the traditional notion of ‘stød basis’ severs syllable structure from the rest of the phonology. A more consistent view emerges if Danish, like the rest of the Scandinavian languages, Insular and Continental, is analyzed as a strict ‘complementary length’ type, such that stressed syllables are all parsed as heavy, that is, with a strictly bimoraic syllabic nucleus.