LINGUIST List 14.1820

Mon Jun 30 2003

Review: Phonetics/Phonology/Historical Ling: Kavitskaya

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  1. Heike Lehnert-LeHouillier Compensatory Lengthening: Phonetics, Phonology, Diachrony

Message 1: Compensatory Lengthening: Phonetics, Phonology, Diachrony

Date: Mon, 30 Jun 2003 11:34:49 +0000
From: Heike Lehnert-LeHouillier <>
Subject: Compensatory Lengthening: Phonetics, Phonology, Diachrony

Kavitskaya, Darya (2002) Compensatory Lengthening: Phonetics,
Phonology, Diachrony. Routledge, Outstanding Dissertations in

Announced at

Heike Lehnert-LeHouillier, University at Buffalo (SUNY)


The dissertation published in this monograph investigates the two
types of compensatory lengthening:

 1) Lengthening of a vowel after loss of a consonant (typically a
tautosyllabic postvocalic consonant): CVC > CV: and
 2) Lengthening of a vowel after loss of a vowel in a following
syllable: CV.CV > CV:C.

 Based on data from 78 languages from 20 different language families,
Kavitskaya develops a phonologization model to account for the
cross-linguistically attested cases of compensatory lengthening. This
phonologization model, which is theoretically based on the idea of
listener oriented sound change developed in Ohala (1992) as well as in
Blevins & Garrett (1998), intends to provide a better account of
diachronic compensatory lengthening than previous accounts, most
notably the account by de Chene & Anderson (1979) and the widely
accepted account within moraic phonology by Hayes (1989).


CHAPTER 1 illustrates the two major instances of compensatory
lengthening with data from Lithuanian and Serbo-Croatian and lays out
the basic tenets of the phonologization model:
 A. Compensatory lengthening of a vowel induced by the loss of a
segment will take place only if the lengthened vowel was previously in
an environment that made it phonetically longer.
 B. The loss of the segment that conditioned the phonetic vowel
lengthening leads to a reinterpretation of the phonetically lengthened
vowel as phonologically long (i.e. phonologization). Note: that 'loss
of a segment' in this model means that the segment was produced by the
speaker but misparsed and reinterpreted as missing by the listener.

 In the case of compensatory lengthening of a vowel after loss of a
consonant (CVC > CV:), Kavitskaya's model predicts that for example
the loss of postvocalic glides will result more easily in compensatory
lengthening than the loss of postvocalic obstruents since the
relatively long transition from vowel to glide may be re-interpreted
as vowel length after the glide is lost. The rather abrupt transition
between vowel and obstruent, however, is not a source of phonetic
vowel lengthening and the loss of a postvocalic obstruent should,
therefore, not result in compensatory lengthening of the vowel.

 The case of compensatory lengthening of a vowel after vowel loss
(CV.CV > CV:C) is explained in the phonologization model as
follows. Vowels in open syllable are phonetically longer than vowels
in closed syllable. The loss of the second vowel in a two-syllable
CV.CV sequence results in the resyllabification into a single CV:C
syllable of that sequence. The conditioning environment for the
phonetic lengthening of the first vowel has now disappeared resulting
in the re-interpretation of the phonetic vowel length as phonological.

CHAPTER 2 reviews the different approaches to compensatory lengthening
that have been taken in the literature. The focus of this chapter is
on problems that arise for a moraic approach from the analysis of
compensatory lengthening.

 The first problem for a moraic account of compensatory lengthening
that Kavitskaya identifies is that compensatory lengthening is
predicted to occur only in languages that exhibit independently
established weight distinction. In other words; there needs to be
evidence in a language that coda consonants are moraic, since only the
deletion of a weight bearing coda consonant can result in the transfer
of the mora from the deleted coda consonant to the previous
vowel. However, there exist at least two languages, Ngajan and Piro
that don't show any evidence that coda consonants are moraic, but do
exhibit compensatory lengthening.

 The second problem for a moraic account is said to be the existence
of languages (Samothraki Greek, Romanesco Italian, Onondaga) in which
compensatory lengthening is triggered by the deletion of an onset
consonant. According to standard moraic theory (e.g. Hayes 1989), the
deletion of an onset consonant should never lead to compensatory
lengthening, since onsets are never moraic.

 The third problem for a moraic account stated by Kavitskaya is also
related to the fact that onsets are weightless. This would predict
that in CV.CV > CV:C compensatory lengthening the nature of the
intervocalic consonant in the CV.CV sequence cannot have any influence
on whether or not compensatory lengthening after loss of the second
vowel occurs. The author points out that in Romance and Slavic
compensatory lengthening after vowel loss crucially depends on the
nature of the intervening consonant; i.e. compensatory lengthening in
Polish does occur unless the intervening consonant is a voiceless

 The fourth problem identified is that a moraic account of
compensatory lengthening has difficulties to account for cases of
compensatory lengthening due to loss of a tautosyllabic consonant that
is not adjacent to the lengthening vowel; i.e. CVC1C2 > CV:C1. The
author argues that any moraic account that can accommodate these data
is not constrained enough otherwise and result in overgeneration.

 The last problem mentioned is that of directionality. The empirical
observation that needs to be accounted for is that the element that is
lost is always to the right of the vowel that lengthens; i.e. the
directionality is right-to-left. Within a moraic approach to
compensatory lengthening this generalization is accounted for by two
mechanisms: the prohibition of crossing association lines and
parasitic delinking (Hayes 1989). The author points out that this
account of directionality crucially depends on several theory internal
assumptions. First, the principle of no association lines crossing can
only account for directionality if vowels and consonants are analyzed
as being on the same tier. However, many phonological models analyze
consonants and vowels to be on separate tier. Second, the mechanism of
parasitic delinking is not independently motivated and hence remains a
 After having identified these five issues, the author goes on to
investigate the two types of compensatory lengthening in more detail.

CHAPTER 3 investigates diachronic CVC > CV: compensatory lengthening
by segment type of the lost consonant.

 The loss of glides, which are the most likely consonants to cause
compensatory lengthening according to the predictions of the
phonologization model, is discussed based on data from Turkish,
Kabardian, Ngajan, and Ancient Greek. The claim here is that the
transition between vowel and glide is very long and if the glide is
lost; i.e. not heard by the listener, the result is a reinterpretation
of the preconsonantal vowel as long. It is further illustrated that
glides may be more likely not to be heard in certain environments. For
example, if they follow a phonetically similar vowel; i.e. if [j]
follows a high front vowel or if they precede a sonorant consonant,
glides are more likely to be missed since the formant frequencies of
the 2. and 3. formant of a high front vowel are very similar to that
of a [j] glide.

 The explanation for the loss of liquids resulting in compensatory
lengthening is very similar to that of glides; vowel-liquid
transitions are very long and after loss of a liquid the vowel can be
reinterpreted as phonemically long. However, unlike for glides, the
phonetic properties of the liquid itself in addition to its
environment determine whether or not the deletion of a liquid will
result in compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel. For
example, rhotics that are approximants are more likely to cause
compensatory lengthening than rhotics that are trills. Compensatory
lengthening after the loss of liquids is discussed on data from Komi,
Ngajan, and Turkish.

 Compensatory lengthening due to the loss or reduction of nasals is
ascribed to the fact that nasalized vowels tend to be longer than oral
vowels. If a post-vocalic nasal is lost and thus the conditioning
environment for the phonetic length of the vowel is gone, the length
of the vowel can be reinterpreted as phonemic. The loss of nasals
seems also phonetically conditioned since in many languages nasals are
lost before voiceless fricatives or voiceless obstruents in
general. The author makes the interesting observation that
compensatory lengthening triggered by nasal loss while occurring in
numerous languages, only seems to occur in Indo-European and Bantu

 Fricatives should not result in compensatory lengthening of a
preceding vowel since fricatives have usually no lengthening effect on
neighboring vowels. The author argues that in all cases in which the
apparent loss of a fricative has caused compensatory lengthening, the
fricative necessarily undergoes lenition first resulting in an
approximant and then is lost causing compensatory lengthening. Since
[h] is the most common fricative to cause compensatory lengthening, it
is mentioned that [h] may be an approximant in many languages.

 In the section discussing compensatory lengthening after the loss
of a stop consonant the author points out that despite the fact that
vowels are longer before voiced stops compared to voiceless stops in
many language, there don't seem to be cases where the loss of a voiced
stop caused compensatory lengthening. For the cases of [g] loss in
Turkish and West Saxon discussed here, the author argues that [g]
underwent lenition first to a fricative and then to an approximant, so
that the compensatory lengthening was the result of approximant loss
rather than due to the loss of the stop.

 The last section in this chapter discusses apparent
counterexamples, the first one being that glottal stops are among the
more common consonants to trigger compensatory lengthening. Kavitskaya
argues that only glottal stops that are phonetically realized as
having weak constriction of the vocal folds or as laryngealization on
the vowel can trigger compensatory lengthening. The second apparent
counterexample is morphological compensatory lengthening which is
argued to be a ''case of templatic, morphologically conditioned
process'' that doesn't need a phonetic explanation. The next apparent
counterexample discussed is compensatory lengthening through
degemination. Here the author argues that degemination may start out
as phonetically motivated process; i.e. degemination of an approximant
and then be extended to other geminates via analogical sound
change. The last apparent counterexample is compensatory lengthening
through onset loss. Since all the cases of onset loss discussed here
involve a liquid, it is argued that the same mechanisms that explain
compensatory lengthening after the loss of a coda liquid can account
for compensatory lengthening after loss of an onset liquid.

CHAPTER 4 investigates the diachronic development of compensatory
lengthening through vowel loss mainly discussing data from Friulian
and Slavic. The main argument here is that vowels in open syllable are
phonetically longer than vowels in closed syllable. The loss of the
second vowel in a two-syllable CV.CV sequence results in the
resyllabification into a single CV:C syllable of that sequence and in
reinterpretation of the vowel length as phonemic. Especially the
discussion of Slavic develops a phonetic account for the fact that
some intervening consonants in a CVCV sequence allow compensatory
lengthening after loss of the second vowel while others do not. The
author argues that the situation can be explained by making reference
to the observation that vowels tend to be longer before voiced
consonants than before voiceless ones. Kavitskaya claims for Slavic
that phonetic vowel duration was longest before glides, less long
before other sonorants, short before voiced fricatives, shorter before
voiced stops, and shortest before voiceless obstruents. Furthermore,
she argues that after the loss of the second vowel in CVCV sequences
in Slavic the length of the first vowel was reinterpreted as
phonemically long if it preceded some - usually more sonorous
consonants - but not others. In order to validate this claim, the
author reports an experiment conducted by herself on vowel length in
open and closed syllables in Contemporary Standard Russian. In the
remainder of the chapter Kavitskaya discusses the prosodic
conditioning of compensatory lengthening in Slavic.

CHAPTER 5 discusses synchronic compensatory lengthening. While it was
argued in chapters 3 and 4 that diachronically the two types of
compensatory lengthening are similar in that they arise through
phonologization of previously phonetic vowel length, this chapter
illustrates the asymmetry between CVC and CVCV compensatory
lengthening synchronically.

 Since compensatory lengthening through consonant loss (CVC > CV:) is
usually phonologically conditioned, the trigger (i.e. the lost consonant)
can usually be recovered in all environments that don't cause its deletion.
These cases of compensatory lengthening can synchronically be modeled as
weight conservation within the syllable. Furthermore, the resulting
syllable structure (CV:) is more optimal than the original CVC structure.

 In compensatory lengthening through vowel loss, the lost vowel is usually
not recoverable, which often leads to the lexicalization or
morphologization of CVCV ~ CV:C alternations and the resulting syllable
structure (CV:C) is argued to be cross-linguistically dispreferred. In the
very few cases in which compensatory lengthening through vowel loss is
phonologically conditioned, the lost vowel can be recovered and these cases
are formally similar to compensatory lengthening through consonant loss in
that they can be synchronically modeled as a weight conserving process.

CHAPTER 6 summarizes phonologization model developed in this dissertation
and states again that in order to account for all aspects of compensatory
lengthening, it is necessary to distinguish between synchronic alternations
and diachronic sound changes as well as between compensatory lengthening
through consonant loss and compensatory lengthening through vowel loss. 


This work makes a significant contribution to the body of work that
tries to further our understanding of how phonetics influences and
shapes phonological patterns in the world's languages. It is a great
challenge to analyze a huge amount of data - as Kavitskaya did in her
dissertation - and to account for cross-linguistic generalizations
without neglecting language specific detail. In many instances the
author suggests different analyses from those proposed in the sources
she used. One such case is Onondaga where the author challenges
Woodbury's (1981) diachronic analysis of why Proto-Lake-Iroquoian *CrV
sequences developed into CV: sequences in Onondaga, apparently showing
compensatory lengthening after deletion of onset-r. According to
Woodbury's analysis based on historic documents, Proto-Lake-Iroquoian
*CrV sequences were broken up by an epenthetic /e/ (*CerV) with
following r- deletion (*CeV) and coalescence of the vowels resulting
in a long vowel. Kavitskaya suggests that the epenthetic /e/ was
''actually a phonetic effect of the r itself, perceived by listeners,
but not yet phonologized.''

 There are several arguments against such a view. First, the historic 
sources do not use different symbols to represent epenthetic /e/ and 
non-epenthetic /e/ which would be expected if they had been phonetically 
different. In the closely related language Mohawk, the epenthetic /e/ 
still exists and is not any different in its realization from 
non-epenthetic /e/. Furthermore, the quality of the lengthened vowel can 
be easily explained by the coalescence analysis. For example, if the V 
in the CerV sequence was a back vowel, the outcome is a lengthened front 
vowel (*Cero > Ce:); if it was a low vowel, the outcome was a lengthened 
raised vowel (*Cera > Cae:). These changes in vowel quality cannot be 
easily explained as having been caused by the onset-r, since the 'r' in 
Iroquoian - where it still exists - has been described by Lounsbury 
(1978) as a retroflex lateral flap, which we would not expect to cause
any fronting. Even though I was not convinced by the author's
interpretation of these particular data, overall the phonetic motivation
for compensatory lengthening was well illustrated by the author, and I
would recommend this book to anybody interested in this are

Lounsbury, F. 1978. Iroquouian languages. In: Bruce Trigger (ed.) Handbook
of North American Indians 15, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.


Heike Lehnert-LeHouillier is a PhD student in the linguistics
department at the University at Buffalo. She is interested in the
phonetic and phonological aspects of word and sentence prosody,
laboratory phonology and phonetics as well as in Iroquoian
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