How do we understand if the foot construction is Right to Left or Left to Right? Does it have to do with the head of the foot?

For example, in a trochee (the head is leftmost in the foot), is the directionality of footing leftwards?

1 Answer 1


The easiest way to answer this is by using an example of each. Look at the following examples from Pintupi and Wargamay:

(1) Pintupi (Hansen and Hansen, 1969, as cited by Peng, 2014)

a. pá.ɲa

b. tú.ʈa.ya

c. má.ɭa.wà.na

d. pú.ɭiŋ.kà.la.tu

(2) Wargamay (Dixon, 1981, as cited by Peng, 2014)

a. bá.da

b. ga.gá.ra

c. gí.ɟa.wù.lu

d. ɟu.ɽá.gay-mì.ri

Note how in Pintupi, stress falls always falls on odd-numbered syllables whereas in Wargamay, it falls on odd-numbered syllables when there is an even number of syllables and falls on even-numbered syllables when there is an odd number of syllables.

We can capture this fact by stating that Pintupi divides syllables into feet from left to right and Wargamay does this from right to left, then both languages assign stress to the first syllable:

(1) Pintupi (Hansen and Hansen, 1969, as cited by Peng, 2014)

a. (pá.ɲa)

b. (tú.ʈa).ya

c. (má.ɭa).(wà.na)

d. (pú.ɭiŋ).(kà.la).tu

(2) Wargamay (Dixon, 1981, as cited by Peng, 2014)

a. (bá.da)

b. ga.(gá.ra)

c. (gí.ɟa).(wù.lu)

d. ɟu.(ɽá.gay)-(mì.ri)

Finally, note that the notion of directionality is not a concept inherent in language, but rather a category we invent to describe linguistic phenomena with greater elegance, i.e. it is an artefact of our analyses.

  • What is an example of a concept inherent in language which is not an artefact of our analysis.
    – user6726
    Jan 24, 2018 at 16:13
  • @user6726 I guess I could have worded that better - that comment was simply intended to emphasise that we don't actually 'assign' syllables to feet in our heads when we speak (since it's easy to get that impression, if we take the terms used too literally). Jan 25, 2018 at 6:38
  • Are you saying that you don't know if we actually assign syllables to feet, or that you know for a fact that we don't assign syllables, we specifically do a different thing?
    – user6726
    Jan 25, 2018 at 16:09

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