LINGUIST List 9.553

Fri Apr 10 1998

Disc: Merger

Editor for this issue: Julie Wilson <>


  1. Henry M. Hoenigswald, Re: Reversal of merger

Message 1: Re: Reversal of merger

Date: Tue, 7 Apr 1998 15:35:22 -0500
From: Henry M. Hoenigswald <>
Subject: Re: Reversal of merger

It seems that mergers are what cannot be reversed; a merger "only at the
phonetic level" being a round square. # (2) seems to include something
which has been called by a different name ('a variety of analogic change').
This, again, strikes some of us not as a factual but as a definitional
matter, though an all-important one since the advantage of keeping
so-called 'sound-changes' (non-morphological processes) and so-called
'analogy' definitionally apart is immense, as shown by the actual work from
Humboldt to Garde and Labov. It comes straight out of the dichotomy of
"double articulation" (morphemics vs. non-morphemics applied to one and
the same string) which had better be retained as axiomatic. It is
expressed in the 'pair-test' administered to the speakers of 'the' language
or register you have chosen to describe (to elicit their judgment of what
is 'same', what different). Contradictory findings do not argue against
the test but reflect (or rather define) variation . The pair test yields
the same entities that figure as points in the traditional lines of
descent, quite as if the latter "existed in nature" . The explanations
quoted as not being in short supply may not be so many independent
explanations; some of them, at least, would appear to represent one and
the same confusion.

>Nevertheless, a number of apparent counterexamples have been reported
>in the literature, and proposed explanations for these are not in
>short supply. So far, I have tracked down five putative explanations
>for apparent reversals of merger, as follows:

>(1) The merger occurred only at the phonetic level.

>(2) The merger took place, but just one of the two merged segments
>had a distinctive phonological role in the language.

>(3) The merger took place in the prestige variety only.

>(4) The merger occurred only variably, and speakers reported only
 the merged pronunciation.

>(5) There was only a near-merger.

Henry M. Hoenigswald
908 Westdale Avenue
Swarthmore PA 19081-1804 USA
e-mail: <>
 [ (office:) 618 Williams Hall
 University of Pennsylvania
 Philadelphia PA 19104-6305 USA
 Fax: (215) 573-2091 ]
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