Probing phonological structure in play language: Speaking backwards in Zenzontepec Chatino
Play languages (also known as language games or ludlings) represent a special type of language use that is well known to shed useful light on linguistic structure. This paper explores a syllable transposition play language in Zenzontepec Chatino that provides evidence for the segmental inventory, syllable structure, the limits of the phonological word, the prosodic status of inflectional formatives, and the autonomy of tone, all of which aligns with independent phonological evidence in the language. While recent theoretical and cross-linguistic studies have questioned the nature, and even the validity, of constituents such as the phonological word, the syllable, and the onset, this study provides an example of a language with strongly manifested phonological constituents. Following the International Year of Indigenous Languages, the study also highlights the importance of in-depth analysis of less-studied languages for linguistic theory, typology, and language maintenance or reclamation for communities.