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LINGUIST List 22.420

Mon Jan 24 2011

Diss: Historical Ling/Phonology: Gress-Wright: 'Opacity and ...'

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        1.     Jonathan Gress-Wright , Opacity and Transparency in Phonological Change

Message 1: Opacity and Transparency in Phonological Change
Date: 24-Jan-2011
From: Jonathan Gress-Wright <gressmeistergmail.com>
Subject: Opacity and Transparency in Phonological Change
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Institution: University of Pennsylvania
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2010

Author: Jonathan Gress-Wright

Dissertation Title: Opacity and Transparency in Phonological Change

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Phonology


Dissertation Director(s):
Donald A. Ringe

Dissertation Abstract:

Final obstruent devoicing is attested in both Middle and Modern High German, and
the modern rule is usually assumed to have been directly inherited from the
medieval rule without any chronological break (Reichmann & Wegera 1993), despite
the fact that the graphic representation of final devoicing ceased in the Early
Modern period. However, an alternative account holds that the spelling change
reflects the actual loss of the devoicing rule, and therefore that the modern
rule has an independent origin (Mihm 2004). In particular, apocope of final
schwa has been suggested as the cause of the loss of devoicing in Early Modern
German (Kranzmayer 1956), which, if true, aligns developments in German with
contemporary developments in Yiddish (King 1980).

Loss of devoicing in Yiddish supposedly occurred because schwa apocope rendered
the devoicing rule opaque, and hence hard to learn (Kiparsky 1972). If schwa
apocope is the cause of the loss of final devoicing in Early Modern German as
well, then we expect to see some evidence for opaque devoicing during the period
that apocope was in progress, which is precisely what we find. A statistically
significant correlation between apocope and absence of final devoicing can be
shown for a number of German texts of the 14th and 15th centuries, i.e. words
that never had final schwa still tend to show devoicing, while words that
formerly had a final vowel tend not to show devoicing. After the 15th century,
devoicing is lost across the board, which correlates with the completion of
schwa apocope and the loss of the opaque devoicing rule.

This confirms our theoretical predictions. If apocope had not rendered devoicing
opaque, we would have to conclude that Early Modern German schwa apocope was an
instance of rule insertion (King 1969). However, the structural description of
neither apocope nor devoicing leads us to expect insertion (King 1973). Instead,
Modern German final devoicing appears to be an instance of rule re-affirmation
(Hock 1991), which entails that the devoicing rule, though opaque, remained
productive in some dialects.
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