Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

The Dental Suffix in Modern Icelandic: Phonology, Morpho(phono)logy, and the Lexicon (1)

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

The Dental Suffix in Modern Icelandic: Phonology, Morpho(phono)logy, and the Lexicon (1)

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The Germanic dental suffix has three surface variants in Modem Icelandic. The distribution of the variants and their interaction with the consonants of the verbal base are analysed against the background of the phonology of the language. The theoretical model is that of Government Phonology. Particular attention is paid to the structure of the rhyme, and coda-onset contacts. It is argued that with the exception of lexically marked items the selection of the dental suffix variant is determined by the presence of occlusion and tone in the final consonants of the base. Most of the segmental changes found in the base are motivated by the need to comply with conditions on coda-onset contacts which prevail in the language at large.

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In Modern Icelandic, just like in other Germanic languages, a dental suffix marks the category of weak verbs. Present-day English realises the dental suffixed by three phonetic variants: [t] walked, [d] robbed, and [Id] waited, their distribution being controlled in a straightforward way by the nature of the final segment of the base. Apart from the fully productive pattern where the addition of the suffix is conditioned by the base but the base itself is left intact, there is a number of verbs with morphophonemic alternations involving both vowels and consonants, such as e.g.: keep-kept, leave-left, sell-sold, seek-sought. These are predominantly, or perhaps completely, a matter for the lexicon. The non-phonological nature of the alternations follows from their idiosyncratic and non-necessary character as, obviously, verbal forms without such alternations are common, e.g.: seep-seeped, heave-heaved, fell-felled, leak-leaked. The situation in Modern Icelandic initially appears to be similar in that there are also three dental variants traditionally transcribed as [t d 6], the difference being that their distribution is quite complex; additionally, the attachment of the dental suffix causes considerable modifications in the verbal base, most of which are quite general in the language and hence, presumably, of a phonological nature. As we will see below, the addition of the suffix is conditioned by the nature of the base but it also modifies the base in an intricate fashion. Of the four classes of weak verbs usually identified in Icelandic (Thrainsson 1994: 158-160) we will only be concerned with consonantal bases since the vocalic ones invariably select the spirantal variant [6], e.g.: kalla [khatla] 'call' -- kalladi [khatlaoi], na [nau:] 'reach' -- nadi [nau:OI]. (2) Before we proceed with a more detailed presentation of the data several preliminary remarks are in order.

The claim found in all synchronic descriptions of Modern Icelandic which we repeated above, i.e. the fact that there are three variants of the dental suffix, requires a comment. It can be maintained only as a historical and orthographic statement or as a result of phonological analysis, since phonetically speaking there are just two variants: the voiceless dental plosive [t] and the voiced interdental spirant[O]. This follows from the well-known fact that plosives in Icelandic are uniformly voiceless. Phonetic descriptions (e.g., Kress 1982: 24; Gislason and Prainsson 1993: 70-71) uniformly agree that what distinguishes pairs of plosives such as those spelt p-b is the presence of aspiration in the first member and its absence in the second. Traditional phonetic transcription was reluctant to draw the obvious conclusion and identify the two segments; instead the p-b difference was transcribed as [ph-b] with an obvious redundancy, since a voiceless [12] is nothing other than an unaspirated [p]. A phonetically c onsistent and redundancy-free transcription of pairs such as panna 'pan' - banna 'ban' is [phan:a] -- [pan:a]; this way of transcribing Icelandic plosives is adopted in some works (Kristinsson 1988; Thrainsson 1994; Gussmann 2002) and we will follow it here. In phonetic terms the dental suffix variants spelt -d in reyndi 'try' and -t in keypti 'buy' are uniformly pronounced as [t] (-i is the marker of the 1st and 3rd person singular). …

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