LINGUIST List 2.184

Wednesday, 1 May 1991

Disc: Phonology

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Re: Russian i/y
  2. Harry Bochner, Re: Phonology (Part 1)
  3. John Coleman, RE: Phonology (Part 1)
  4. , Re: Corrections

Message 1: Re: Russian i/y

Date: Mon, 29 Apr 91 09:30:11 PDT
From: <>
Subject: Re: Russian i/y
I invite others who can verify Alexis' claim that Russians use bare [y] as an
alternate letter name for "y" (traditionally called "yerih") to come forward.
The reason for the cyrillic name is that the letter was formed historically
from a back yer followed by Greek "i". I don't know how Baudouin would have
taken Alexis' "i"/"y" minimal pair claim, but the fact that "i" and "y" fail
to block rhyme would have made him hesitate to call them different phonemes.

I apologize to Alexis for not making my claim about orthography sufficiently
clear. All I am saying is that people have two distinct vowel symbols here--
one for preceding soft consonants and one for hard consonants. Since it is
unusual for alphabetic symbols to represent distinct allophones (i.e. they
usually stand for phonemes or phonemic sequences), I am proposing that the
existence of the symbols increased the salience of the allophones in the minds
of speakers. The argument does not depend on the letters being used in an
absolutely consistent fashion. After all, English "s" can be used for /z/,
but speakers take the symbol in isolation to stand for /s/. Suppose English
orthography had a distinct symbol for nasalized /a/. Would that cause speakers
to perceive [a~]/[a] as more salient than [e~]/[e]? I don't know, but I 
suspect so.

>...Also, I DID say that
>I do not believe that distribution is what determines whether
>people hear sounds as same or as different, but that (a sophisticated
>heory of) phonetic similarity (at least as sophisticated as that
>of Stampe and Donegan but probably more so, as I also pointed out)
>is. And I cited such other, and classic, examples as [h] and [ng]
>in English. Or is that also due to the orthography.

I'm not sure that Donegan and Stampe have a theory of "phonetic similarity"
in this sense. [h] and [ng] are not allophones in English for them because
there is no process (or chain of processes) that causes a speaker to pronounce
one when he intends the other. This is not to say that such a situation could
never exist in some other language. Look at the things that come out of the
mouths of babes.
 -Rick (
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Message 2: Re: Phonology (Part 1)

Date: Mon, 29 Apr 91 17:53:33 -0500
From: Harry Bochner <>
Subject: Re: Phonology (Part 1)
In response to my suggestion that we need is a theory that allows us to
express generalizations about lexically listed facts, Mike Hammond writes:

> Rules are rules. What else is there? If something isn't rule-governed, then
> it's not rule-governed. Why should sanity be listed if it's behavior is
> rule-governed?

Ah, but its behavior is only partly rule-governed. In particular, it is
impossible to predict the existence of the word 'sanity' from anything else
in the grammar; this is what it means to say that -ity is unproductive
(overall, that is; it is productive in two of its subenvironments).

That is, the fact that 'sanity' exists has to be learned as an independent
bit of information in the grammar. We can try to represent this bit of
information as a diacritic that governs the distribution of -ity. But it can
easily be shown that this diacritic approach requires baroque elaboration to
cope with the full range of facts; I gave a few examples in my posting in vol
2, #122, so I'll refrain from repetition right now. Ultimately this approach
is forced to posit rules that apply to only one lexical item, and thus do not
state generalizations in any meaningful sense of the term. Is something rule-
governed if the case in question is the only possible case of the rule? I
think not. 'Rules' of this sort are just a clumsy, unconstrained substitute
for the (partially redundant) lexical entries of a word-based theory.

-- Harry Bochner
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Message 3: RE: Phonology (Part 1)

Date: Mon, 29 Apr 91 16:49 GMT
From: John Coleman <>
Subject: RE: Phonology (Part 1)
Rick Wojcik recently commented:
> David Stampe once remarked that there is no solid evidence that one 
> language ever really 'borrows' the phonology of another. ...
> words per se, to be acceptable to native speakers, must be pronounceable 
> within the constraints of the borrowing language. ... On the other hand,
> intimacy between different languages may drive the phonology of one into a 
> position where it can accept previously banned structures.

Well, which is it to be. Can one language `borrow' the phonological structures
of another, thus bringing about a change to its original phonology, or can't 
it? Surely this talk of `intimacy between different languages driving the 
phonology of one into a position where it can accept previously banned structures' is exactly what other phonologists normally mean when they talk about
`borrowing' in phonology. The first step in that intimacy is, surely,
borrowing the pronunciation of foreign words (`instant pidgin'), following
which a revised phonology is creolized?

--- John Coleman
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Message 4: Re: Corrections

Date: Tue, 30 Apr 91 12:45:31 PDT
From: <>
Subject: Re: Corrections
In an earlier post, I stated that Halle originated the pre-SPE-like analysis
of Russian, in which palatalized segments did not exist at the systematic
phonemic level. David Stampe has reminded that Halle's original The_Sound 
Pattern_of_Russian (1959. The Hague: Mouton) adhered to a fairly standard 
phonemic analysis of Russian. It was Theodore Lightner's 1965 MIT dissertation 
Segmental_Phonology_of_Modern_Standard_Russian that was responsible for that
early SPE-style analysis of Russian. It is unclear to me how extensively
Halle influenced Lightner's analyses at that time, but Lightner's work was 
surely very influential on the basic direction that SPE took with respect to 
abstract representations.

A Russian speaker has confirmed for me Alexis' point that modern Russians tend
to recite the alphabet with "y" rather than the letter name "yerih" nowadays.
Apparently "yerih" is a bit obsolete and considered somewhat bookish. That 
speaker also cited the following uses of [y] as an autonomous sound:
 (1) The Strugatskii brothers refer to "dikij vepr' Y" in Trudno_byt'_bogom
 ("Hard to be a god"--available in English)
 (2) Some foreign names (Chukchi, Estonian) have initial "y": e.g. the
 Estonian name "Yjm" (probably from the back unrounded mid vowel). 
So, at least for many speakers, we can say that [y] probably exists as a
distinct phoneme in the language now, not just a perceptually salient phonetic
alternant of /i/. (I accept the pronunciation of foreign loans and foreign 
names as evidence of valid native phonological representations as long as
the pronunciations are not judged to be 'strained' by native speakers).
However, I haven't backed away from my stubbornness on the orthography yet.
 -Rick Wojcik (

[End Linguist List, Vol. 2, No. 183]
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