LINGUIST List 4.315

Tue 27 Apr 1993

Sum: Velar palatalization

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  1. Spencer A J, Velar palatalizations

Message 1: Velar palatalizations

Date: Mon, 26 Apr 93 14:56:27 BSVelar palatalizations
From: Spencer A J <>
Subject: Velar palatalizations

Velar softenings as allophonic variation

 Belated thanks to those who responded to my query about
languages with automatic K > CH type velar palatalization
processes, in which a velar alternates with an alveopalatal,
alveolar or dental fricative or affricate:

Zev bar-Lev; Juliette Blevins; Geoffrey Nathan; Laurie Reid;
Tapani Salminen.

 These processes turn out to be thin on the ground.
Juliette Blevins pointed out to me a possible (though not
entirely clear) example: Angave (Melanesian). Laurie Reid
points out that Ivatan (Austronesian) has a K > CH rule
triggered by following or preceding i, y. However, although
that seems to be an automatic rule, it is neutralizing (since
CH is an independent phoneme). In addition, it doesn't apply
across word boundaries, and it doesn't seem apply to
unassimilated loans. Hence, it looks more like a lexical rule,
that a postlexical rule of allophony. Tapani Salminen pointed
out that in Nenets (Samoyedic, Uralic) a K . CH alternation
seems to have got lexicalized and attracted exceptions almost
as soon as it enters the language.

 All this raises the following questions: K > CH type
softenings are extremely common historically and abound in
synchronic morphophonological systems. However, it's extremely
hard to track down this type of process as a genuine
postlexical allophonic rule (akin to aspiration in English).
This is despite the fact that T > CH type softenings are
common as postlexical rules and in principle can easily give
rise to non structure preserving alternations, and despite the
frequency with which postlexical palatalization processes
induce allophony in the form of secondary articulations. So:

(i) Do we really want a phonological theory (e.g. a theory of
feature geometry) in which K > CH comes out as a natural
assimilation of any kind?

(ii) Do we really want to analyse K > CH alternations as *any*
type of (purely) phonological change?

(iii) What is the phonetic chain of events that leads to a
generation of language learners reinterpreting secondary
palatalization of velars as a K > CH alternation?

(iv) Do these types of phenomena imply that morphophonemic
processes (complete with morpholexical conditioning and
exceptions) can sometimes arise in a language in a more or
less discontinuous fashion, without being the result of
gradual lexicalization of purely phonetic or phonological

(iv) What other common morphophonemic processes are there
which don't correspond to natural phonological processes in
this way?

Andrew Spencer
Department of Language and Linguistics
University of Essex
Colchester CO4 3SQ
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