Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Contrast and Markedness in Complex Onset Phonotactics

Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Contrast and Markedness in Complex Onset Phonotactics

Article excerpt

Abstract. In man, y languages that permit coronal laterals to follow labial and velar stops in complex onsets, sequences of a coronal stop followed by a coronal lateral are prohibited. Standard accounts rule out coronal-lateral clusters as an effect of the Obligatory Contour Principle, but this approach cannot explain languages such as Mong Njua and Katu, which neutralize the coronal-velar place contrast yet still allow coronal-lateral clusters to appear. Recent work in Dispersion Theory (Flemming 1995, 2002, Padgett 2003a, b,e) has argued that Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolertsky 1993/2004) must also include systemic constraints that evaluate phonological forms in the context of the larger system of contrasting forms in a language. This paper offers a new Dispersion-theoretic analysis of restrictions on onset clusters involving laterals. Systemic markedness constraints penalize indistinct coronal-velar contrasts in different pre-lateral contexts. Directionality of neutralization is determined by faithfulness constraints on input place, whose ranking can vary across languages and dialects (Hume 2003, Hume and Tserdanetis 2002). The proposed analysis solves problems with earlier accounts and also encompasses typological patterns from over forty languages, including velarization in early Romance sound change and Mexican Spanish loanword adaptations from Nahuatl. (1) - 1. Introduction. In many languages that permit coronal laterals to follow labial and velar stops in complex onsets, sequences of a coronal stop followed by a coronal lateral are prohibited. For example, English allows the clusters in 1 a and 1c but prohibits the coronal stoplateral clusters in 1b.

(1) a. /pl/,/bl/      plead, bleed, plank, blank
    b. */tl/, */dl/
    c. /kl/,/gl/      clue, glue, class, glass

Standard generative analyses invoke similarity avoidance and formalize the restriction as an effect of the Obligatory Contour Principle (henceforth, OCP; Leben 1973, McCarthy 1986), which prohibits adjacent identical segmental specifications. The OCP bans the coronal-coronal clusters in 1b but allows clusters in which the initial stop is labial as in 1a or velar as in 1c. However, the OCP cannot account for languages in which coronal stop-lateral clusters occur either in free variation with or to the exclusion of velar stop-lateral clusters. In Mong Njua (Northern Thailand; Lyman 1974) and Kam (South Vietnam, Laos; Wallace 1969), the OCP-violating clusters themselves are not problematic. Rather, these languages prohibit a contrast between coronal and velar stops before laterals.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Flemming (1995, 2002) considers these restrictions as evidence for Dispersion Theory. In addition to the standard faithfulness and markedness constraints of Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky 1993/2004), Dispersion Theory also includes constraints that govern the well-formedness of phonological contrasts. These constraints are SYSTEMIC inasmuch as they evaluate phonological forms in the context of the larger system of contrasting forms in a language. In this paper, I develop an analysis of stop-lateral clusters within the version of Dispersion Theory elaborated by Padgett (2003 a, b, c), which admits input representations and input-output faithfulness constraints. Furthermore, I adopt the proposal by Hume (2003) and Hume and Tserdanelis (2002) that place markedness is not universal but can vary cross-linguistically. I argue that different patterns of place neutralization in stop-lateral clusters are determined by the interaction between systemic markedness (SPACE) constraints, which penalize indistinct coronal-velar contrasts in different segmental contexts, and Max(place) constraints, whose language-specific ranking determines the directionality of neutralization (i.e., to coronal, velar, or variably to both). I show how the proposed analysis avoids the problems faced by an alternative Dispersion-theoretic account, suggested by Flemming (1995, 2002), that appeals to perceptual distinctiveness of affricates. …

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