LINGUIST List 4.330

Sat 01 May 1993

Disc: Velar palatalization

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  1. John S. Coleman, Re: 4.315 Sum: Velar palatalization

Message 1: Re: 4.315 Sum: Velar palatalization

Date: Thu, 29 Apr 93 10:46:50 -0Re: 4.315 Sum: Velar palatalization
From: John S. Coleman <>
Subject: Re: 4.315 Sum: Velar palatalization

In his recent posting on "velar softenings as allophonic variation",
Andy Spencer observes

 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).

and asks

 (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

It seems plain to me that the K > CH historical change (including
even [k] > [s] developments and alternation) is "natural", insofar
as it marks the start- and end-points of a CHAIN of natural
phonetic/phonological changes:

a) presumably the "front velar" [k,] articulation of /k/ before or
after /i/ or /j/ is phonetically natural, and easily expressed
in various versions of phonological feature theory.

b) [k,] and [c] would both be plausible, "natural" allophones of
/k/ before or after /i/ or /j/.

c) Before /i/ or /j/, it is not surprising for the aspiration phase
of [k,] or [c] to have an [i]-like quality. The distinction between
an [i]-coloured aspiration portion and a voiceless palatal fricative
[C] (IPA c-cedilla) is largely a matter of duration and air pressure.
Otherwise, they are acoustically practically identical. So it is
phonetically natural for an aspirated [k,] or [c] allophone of /k/
to come to be perceived and pronounced as a voiceless palatal affricate
[cC]. (Jakobson, Fant and Halle analyzed affricates as "strident stops".
This is a good example of what they meant.)

d) Each of the subsequent developments from [cC] through [tC], [tS],
and, who knows, [ts], [s] seems, considered step-by-step, both
phonetically "natural" (as a historical development), and appropriately
represented in terms of a succession of changes to the values of single
features. (Or, alternatively, as the privative accumulation of
features, an analysis I have set out in a forthcoming paper.)

If this hypothesis about the historically development of
K > CH is more or less correct (it seems pretty uncontentious to
me), then since each step along the way is a phonologically
natural assimilation, phonological theory cannot help but
characterize K > CH as a natural assimilation. It is not as
simple an assimilation as T > CH, perhaps, but that might enable
us to show why K > CH is rare postlexically. It may not be
NECESSARY to treat K > CH as a phonologically natural assimilation,
but if we don't make use of the phonological machinery available,
one might ask, "why not?". It would seem to be the simplest analysis.

My responses to Andy's 4 questions, then, are a conservative
i) yes, ii) yes, iii) see above, iv) not so far.

--- John Coleman
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