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Segmental Phenomena in Germanic: Consonants  

Samantha Litty and Joseph Salmons

Speech sounds are divided into vowels and consonants, the latter being the focus here. Germanic includes ancient and modern “named languages”—traditionally divided into North Germanic (e.g., Swedish, Danish, Faroese), West Germanic (e.g., German, English, Yiddish), and East Germanic languages not spoken for centuries (notably Gothic). The family also includes countless “dialects,” which are often not mutually intelligible and so could be understood as distinct languages. Languages of the world vary in how many consonants distinguish differences in meaning (create phonological contrasts), like bear versus pear, from 6 to over 100. Most have about 20 and Germanic languages are near that number. Beyond abstract phonological contrasts, each consonant varies phonetically, in actual pronunciation, from varying degrees of aspiration on p, t, k and voicing on b, d, g to fundamental variation in the realizations of /r/, /l/, and /h/. Key consonantal phenomena are presented in historical context and for contemporary languages, with an emphasis on distinguishing abstract, phonological patterns from concrete, phonetic ones. Despite the long research tradition, many issues proffer opportunities to advance the field and are discussed to encourage readers to engage with them.


Korean Phonetics and Phonology  

Young-mee Yu Cho

Due to a number of unusual and interesting properties, Korean phonetics and phonology have been generating productive discussion within modern linguistic theories, starting from structuralism, moving to classical generative grammar, and more recently to post-generative frameworks of Autosegmental Theory, Government Phonology, Optimality Theory, and others. In addition, it has been discovered that a description of important issues of phonology cannot be properly made without referring to the interface between phonetics and phonology on the one hand, and phonology and morpho-syntax on the other. Some phonological issues from Standard Korean are still under debate and will likely be of value in helping to elucidate universal phonological properties with regard to phonation contrast, vowel and consonant inventories, consonantal markedness, and the motivation for prosodic organization in the lexicon.



Daniel Recasens

The study of coarticulation—namely, the articulatory modification of a given speech sound arising from coproduction or overlap with neighboring sounds in the speech chain—has attracted the close attention of phonetic researchers for at least the last 60 years. Knowledge about coarticulatory patterns in speech should provide information about the planning mechanisms of consecutive consonants and vowels and the execution of coordinative articulatory structures during the production of those segmental units. Coarticulatory effects involve changes in articulatory displacement over time toward the left (anticipatory) or the right (carryover) of the trigger, and their typology and extent depend on the articulator under investigation (lip, velum, tongue, jaw, larynx) and the articulatory characteristics of the individual consonants and vowels, as well as nonsegmental factors such as speech rate, stress, and language. A challenge for studying coarticulation is that different speakers may use different coarticulatory mechanisms when producing a given phonemic sequence and they also use coarticulatory information differently for phonemic identification in perception. More knowledge about all these research issues should contribute to a deeper understanding of coarticulation deficits in speakers with speech disorders, how the ability to coarticulate develops from childhood to adulthood, and the extent to which the failure to compensate for coarticulatory effects may give rise to sound change.


Consonant Harmony  

Gunnar Hansson

The term consonant harmony refers to a class of systematic sound patterns, in which consonants interact in some assimilatory way even though they are not adjacent to each other in the word. Such long-distance assimilation can sometimes hold across a significant stretch of intervening vowels and consonants, such as in Samala (Ineseño Chumash) /s-am-net-in-waʃ/ → [ʃamnetiniwaʃ] “they did it to you”, where the alveolar sibilant /s‑/ of the 3.sbj prefix assimilates to the postalveolar sibilant /ʃ/ of the past suffix /‑waʃ/ across several intervening syllables that contain a variety of non-sibilant consonants. While consonant harmony most frequently involves coronal-specific contrasts, like in the Samala case, there are numerous cases of assimilation in other phonological properties, such as laryngeal features, nasality, secondary articulation, and even constriction degree. Not all cases of consonant harmony result in overt alternations, like the [s] ∼ [ʃ] alternation in the Samala 3.sbj prefix. Sometimes the harmony is merely a phonotactic restriction on the shape of morphemes (roots) within the lexicon. Consonant harmony tends to implicate only some group (natural class) of consonants that already share a number of features, and are hence relatively similar, while ignoring less similar consonants. The distance between the potentially interacting consonants can also play a role. For example, in many cases assimilation is limited to relatively short-distance ‘transvocalic’ contexts (. . . CVC. . . ), though the interpretation of such locality restrictions remains a matter of debate. Consonants that do not directly participate in the harmony (as triggers or undergoers of assimilation) are typically neutral and transparent, allowing the assimilating property to be propagated across them. However, this is not universally true; in recent years several cases have come to light in which certain segments can act as blockers when they intervene between a potential trigger-target pair. The main significance of consonant harmony for linguistic theory lies in its apparently non-local character and the challenges that this poses for theories of phonological representations and processes, as well as for formal models of phonological learning. Along with other types of long-distance dependencies in segmental phonology (e.g., long-distance dissimilation, and vowel harmony systems with one or more transparent vowels), sound patterns of consonant harmony have contributed to the development of many theoretical constructs, such as autosegmental (nonlinear) representations, feature geometry, underspecification, feature spreading, strict locality (vs. ‘gapped’ representations), parametrized visibility, agreement constraints, and surface correspondence relations. The formal analysis of long-distance assimilation (and dissimilation) remains a rich and vibrant area of theoretical research. The empirical base for such theoretical inquiry also continues to be expanded. On the one hand, previously undocumented cases (or new, surprising details of known cases) continue to be added to the corpus of attested consonant harmony patterns. On the other hand, artificial phonology learning experiments allow the properties of typologically rare or unattested patterns to be explored in a controlled laboratory setting.


Contrastive Specification in Phonology  

Daniel Currie Hall

The fundamental idea underlying the use of distinctive features in phonology is the proposition that the same phonetic properties that distinguish one phoneme from another also play a crucial role in accounting for phonological patterns. Phonological rules and constraints apply to natural classes of segments, expressed in terms of features, and involve mechanisms, such as spreading or agreement, that copy distinctive features from one segment to another. Contrastive specification builds on this by taking seriously the idea that phonological features are distinctive features. Many phonological patterns appear to be sensitive only to properties that crucially distinguish one phoneme from another, ignoring the same properties when they are redundant or predictable. For example, processes of voicing assimilation in many languages apply only to the class of obstruents, where voicing distinguishes phonemic pairs such as /t/ and /d/, and ignore sonorant consonants and vowels, which are predictably voiced. In theories of contrastive specification, features that do not serve to mark phonemic contrasts (such as [+voice] on sonorants) are omitted from underlying representations. Their phonological inertness thus follows straightforwardly from the fact that they are not present in the phonological system at the point at which the pattern applies, though the redundant features may subsequently be filled in either before or during phonetic implementation. In order to implement a theory of contrastive specification, it is necessary to have a means of determining which features are contrastive (and should thus be specified) and which ones are redundant (and should thus be omitted). A traditional and intuitive method involves looking for minimal pairs of phonemes: if [±voice] is the only property that can distinguish /t/ from /d/, then it must be specified on them. This approach, however, often identifies too few contrastive features to distinguish the phonemes of an inventory, particularly when the phonetic space is sparsely populated. For example, in the common three-vowel inventory /i a u/, there is more than one property that could distinguish any two vowels: /i/ differs from /a/ in both place (front versus back or central) and height (high versus low), /a/ from /u/ in both height and rounding, and /u/ from /i/ in both rounding and place. Because pairwise comparison cannot identify any features as contrastive in such cases, much recent work in contrastive specification is instead based on a hierarchical sequencing of features, with specifications assigned by dividing the full inventory into successively smaller subsets. For example, if the inventory /i a u/ is first divided according to height, then /a/ is fully distinguished from the other two vowels by virtue of being low, and the second feature, either place or rounding, is contrastive only on the high vowels. Unlike pairwise comparison, this approach produces specifications that fully distinguish the members of the underlying inventory, while at the same time allowing for the possibility of cross-linguistic variation in the specifications assigned to similar inventories.