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Review of  Compensatory Lengthening

Reviewer: Heike Lehnert-LeHouillier
Book Title: Compensatory Lengthening
Book Author: Darya Kavitskaya
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Book Announcement: 14.1820

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Date: Sat, 28 Jun 2003 20:18:44 -0400
From: Heike Lehnert-LeHouillier <>
Subject: Compensatory Lengthening: Phonetics, Phonology, Diachrony

Kavitskaya, Darya (2002) Compensatory Lengthening: Phonetics, Phonology,
Diachrony. Routledge, Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics.

Heike Lehnert-LeHouillier, University at Buffalo (SUNY)


The dissertation published in this monograph investigates the two types of
compensatory lengthening:
1) Lengthening of a vowel after loss of a consonant (typically a
tautosyllabic postvocalic consonant): CVC > CV: and
2) Lengthening of a vowel after loss of a vowel in a following syllable:
Based on data from 78 languages from 20 different language families,
Kavitskaya develops a phonologization model to account for the
cross-linguistically attested cases of compensatory lengthening. This
phonologization model, which is theoretically based on the idea of listener
oriented sound change developed in Ohala (1992) as well as in Blevins &
Garrett (1998), intends to provide a better account of diachronic
compensatory lengthening than previous accounts, most notably the account
by de Chene & Anderson (1979) and the widely accepted account within moraic
phonology by Hayes (1989).


CHAPTER 1 illustrates the two major instances of compensatory lengthening
with data from Lithuanian and Serbo-Croatian and lays out the basic tenets
of the phonologization model:
A. Compensatory lengthening of a vowel induced by the loss of a segment
will take place only if the lengthened vowel was previously in an
environment that made it phonetically longer.
B. The loss of the segment that conditioned the phonetic vowel
lengthening leads to a reinterpretation of the phonetically lengthened
vowel as phonologically long (i.e. phonologization).
Note: that 'loss of a segment' in this model means that the segment was
produced by the speaker but misparsed and reinterpreted as missing by the
In the case of compensatory lengthening of a vowel after loss of a
consonant (CVC > CV:), Kavitskaya's model predicts that for example the
loss of postvocalic glides will result more easily in compensatory
lengthening than the loss of postvocalic obstruents since the relatively
long transition from vowel to glide may be re-interpreted as vowel length
after the glide is lost. The rather abrupt transition between vowel and
obstruent, however, is not a source of phonetic vowel lengthening and the
loss of a postvocalic obstruent should, therefore, not result in
compensatory lengthening of the vowel.
The case of compensatory lengthening of a vowel after vowel loss (CV.CV >
CV:C) is explained in the phonologization model as follows. Vowels in open
syllable are phonetically longer than vowels in closed syllable. The loss
of the second vowel in a two-syllable CV.CV sequence results in the
resyllabification into a single CV:C syllable of that sequence. The
conditioning environment for the phonetic lengthening of the first vowel
has now disappeared resulting in the re-interpretation of the phonetic
vowel length as phonological.

CHAPTER 2 reviews the different approaches to compensatory lengthening that
have been taken in the literature. The focus of this chapter is on problems
that arise for a moraic approach from the analysis of compensatory
The first problem for a moraic account of compensatory lengthening that
Kavitskaya identifies is that compensatory lengthening is predicted to
occur only in languages that exhibit independently established weight
distinction. In other words; there needs to be evidence in a language that
coda consonants are moraic, since only the deletion of a weight bearing
coda consonant can result in the transfer of the mora from the deleted coda
consonant to the previous vowel. However, there exist at least two
languages, Ngajan and Piro that don't show any evidence that coda
consonants are moraic, but do exhibit compensatory lengthening.
The second problem for a moraic account is said to be the existence of
languages (Samothraki Greek, Romanesco Italian, Onondaga) in which
compensatory lengthening is triggered by the deletion of an onset
consonant. According to standard moraic theory (e.g. Hayes 1989), the
deletion of an onset consonant should never lead to compensatory
lengthening, since onsets are never moraic.
The third problem for a moraic account stated by Kavitskaya is also
related to the fact that onsets are weightless. This would predict that in
CV.CV > CV:C compensatory lengthening the nature of the intervocalic
consonant in the CV.CV sequence cannot have any influence on whether or not
compensatory lengthening after loss of the second vowel occurs. The author
points out that in Romance and Slavic compensatory lengthening after vowel
loss crucially depends on the nature of the intervening consonant; i.e.
compensatory lengthening in Polish does occur unless the intervening
consonant is a voiceless stop.
The fourth problem identified is that a moraic account of compensatory
lengthening has difficulties to account for cases of compensatory
lengthening due to loss of a tautosyllabic consonant that is not adjacent
to the lengthening vowel; i.e. CVC1C2 > CV:C1. The author argues that any
moraic account that can accommodate these data is not constrained enough
otherwise and result in overgeneration.
The last problem mentioned is that of directionality. The empirical
observation that needs to be accounted for is that the element that is lost
is always to the right of the vowel that lengthens; i.e. the directionality
is right-to-left. Within a moraic approach to compensatory lengthening this
generalization is accounted for by two mechanisms: the prohibition of
crossing association lines and parasitic delinking (Hayes 1989). The author
points out that this account of directionality crucially depends on several
theory internal assumptions. First, the principle of no association lines
crossing can only account for directionality if vowels and consonants are
analyzed as being on the same tier. However, many phonological models
analyze consonants and vowels to be on separate tier. Second, the mechanism
of parasitic delinking is not independently motivated and hence remains a
After having identified these five issues, the author goes on to
investigate the two types of compensatory lengthening in more detail.

CHAPTER 3 investigates diachronic CVC > CV: compensatory lengthening by
segment type of the lost consonant.
The loss of glides, which are the most likely consonants to cause
compensatory lengthening according to the predictions of the
phonologization model, is discussed based on data from Turkish, Kabardian,
Ngajan, and Ancient Greek. The claim here is that the transition between
vowel and glide is very long and if the glide is lost; i.e. not heard by
the listener, the result is a reinterpretation of the preconsonantal vowel
as long. It is further illustrated that glides may be more likely not to be
heard in certain environments. For example, if they follow a phonetically
similar vowel; i.e. if [j] follows a high front vowel or if they precede a
sonorant consonant, glides are more likely to be missed since the formant
frequencies of the 2. and 3. formant of a high front vowel are very similar
to that of a [j] glide.
The explanation for the loss of liquids resulting in compensatory
lengthening is very similar to that of glides; vowel-liquid transitions are
very long and after loss of a liquid the vowel can be reinterpreted as
phonemically long. However, unlike for glides, the phonetic properties of
the liquid itself in addition to its environment determine whether or not
the deletion of a liquid will result in compensatory lengthening of the
preceding vowel. For example, rhotics that are approximants are more likely
to cause compensatory lengthening than rhotics that are trills.
Compensatory lengthening after the loss of liquids is discussed on data
from Komi, Ngajan, and Turkish.
Compensatory lengthening due to the loss or reduction of nasals is
ascribed to the fact that nasalized vowels tend to be longer than oral
vowels. If a post-vocalic nasal is lost and thus the conditioning
environment for the phonetic length of the vowel is gone, the length of the
vowel can be reinterpreted as phonemic. The loss of nasals seems also
phonetically conditioned since in many languages nasals are lost before
voiceless fricatives or voiceless obstruents in general. The author makes
the interesting observation that compensatory lengthening triggered by
nasal loss while occurring in numerous languages, only seems to occur in
Indo-European and Bantu languages.
Fricatives should not result in compensatory lengthening of a preceding
vowel since fricatives have usually no lengthening effect on neighboring
vowels. The author argues that in all cases in which the apparent loss of a
fricative has caused compensatory lengthening, the fricative necessarily
undergoes lenition first resulting in an approximant and then is lost
causing compensatory lengthening. Since [h] is the most common fricative to
cause compensatory lengthening, it is mentioned that [h] may be an
approximant in many languages.
In the section discussing compensatory lengthening after the loss of a
stop consonant the author points out that despite the fact that vowels are
longer before voiced stops compared to voiceless stops in many language,
there don't seem to be cases where the loss of a voiced stop caused
compensatory lengthening. For the cases of [g] loss in Turkish and West
Saxon discussed here, the author argues that [g] underwent lenition first
to a fricative and then to an approximant, so that the compensatory
lengthening was the result of approximant loss rather than due to the loss
of the stop.
The last section in this chapter discusses apparent counterexamples, the
first one being that glottal stops are among the more common consonants to
trigger compensatory lengthening. Kavitskaya argues that only glottal stops
that are phonetically realized as having weak constriction of the vocal
folds or as laryngealization on the vowel can trigger compensatory
lengthening. The second apparent counterexample is morphological
compensatory lengthening which is argued to be a "case of templatic,
morphologically conditioned process" that doesn't need a phonetic
explanation. The next apparent counterexample discussed is compensatory
lengthening through degemination. Here the author argues that degemination
may start out as phonetically motivated process; i.e. degemination of an
approximant and then be extended to other geminates via analogical sound
change. The last apparent counterexample is compensatory lengthening
through onset loss. Since all the cases of onset loss discussed here
involve a liquid, it is argued that the same mechanisms that explain
compensatory lengthening after the loss of a coda liquid can account for
compensatory lengthening after loss of an onset liquid.

CHAPTER 4 investigates the diachronic development of compensatory
lengthening through vowel loss mainly discussing data from Friulian and
Slavic. The main argument here is that vowels in open syllable are
phonetically longer than vowels in closed syllable. The loss of the second
vowel in a two-syllable CV.CV sequence results in the resyllabification
into a single CV:C syllable of that sequence and in reinterpretation of the
vowel length as phonemic. Especially the discussion of Slavic develops a
phonetic account for the fact that some intervening consonants in a CVCV
sequence allow compensatory lengthening after loss of the second vowel
while others do not. The author argues that the situation can be explained
by making reference to the observation that vowels tend to be longer before
voiced consonants than before voiceless ones. Kavitskaya claims for Slavic
that phonetic vowel duration was longest before glides, less long before
other sonorants, short before voiced fricatives, shorter before voiced
stops, and shortest before voiceless obstruents. Furthermore, she argues
that after the loss of the second vowel in CVCV sequences in Slavic the
length of the first vowel was reinterpreted as phonemically long if it
preceded some - usually more sonorous consonants - but not others. In order
to validate this claim, the author reports an experiment conducted by
herself on vowel length in open and closed syllables in Contemporary
Standard Russian. In the remainder of the chapter Kavitskaya discusses the
prosodic conditioning of compensatory lengthening in Slavic.

CHAPTER 5 discusses synchronic compensatory lengthening. While it was
argued in chapters 3 and 4 that diachronically the two types of
compensatory lengthening are similar in that they arise through
phonologization of previously phonetic vowel length, this chapter
illustrates the asymmetry between CVC and CVCV compensatory lengthening
Since compensatory lengthening through consonant loss (CVC > CV:) is
usually phonologically conditioned, the trigger (i.e. the lost consonant)
can usually be recovered in all environments that don't cause its deletion.
These cases of compensatory lengthening can synchronically be modeled as
weight conservation within the syllable. Furthermore, the resulting
syllable structure (CV:) is more optimal than the original CVC structure.
In compensatory lengthening through vowel loss, the lost vowel is usually
not recoverable, which often leads to the lexicalization or
morphologization of CVCV ~ CV:C alternations and the resulting syllable
structure (CV:C) is argued to be cross-linguistically dispreferred. In the
very few cases in which compensatory lengthening through vowel loss is
phonologically conditioned, the lost vowel can be recovered and these cases
are formally similar to compensatory lengthening through consonant loss in
that they can be synchronically modeled as a weight conserving process.

CHAPTER 6 summarizes phonologization model developed in this dissertation
and states again that in order to account for all aspects of compensatory
lengthening, it is necessary to distinguish between synchronic alternations
and diachronic sound changes as well as between compensatory lengthening
through consonant loss and compensatory lengthening through vowel loss.


This work makes a significant contribution to the body of work
that tries to further our understanding of how phonetics influences and
shapes phonological patterns in the world's languages. It is a great
challenge to analyze a huge amount of data - as Kavitskaya did in her
dissertation - and to account for cross-linguistic generalizations without
neglecting language specific detail. In many instances the author suggests
different analyses from those proposed in the sources she used. One such
case is Onondaga where the author challenges Woodbury's (1981) diachronic
analysis of why Proto-Lake-Iroquoian *CrV sequences developed into CV:
sequences in Onondaga, apparently showing compensatory lengthening after
deletion of onset-r. According to Woodbury's analysis based on historic
documents, Proto-Lake-Iroquoian *CrV sequences were broken up by an
epenthetic /e/ (*CerV) with following r- deletion (*CeV) and coalescence of
the vowels resulting in a long vowel. Kavitskaya suggests that the
epenthetic /e/ was "actually a phonetic effect of the r itself, perceived
by listeners, but not yet phonologized."
There are several arguments against such a view. First, the historic
sources do not use different symbols to represent epenthetic /e/ and
non-epenthetic /e/ which would be expected if they had been phonetically
different. In the closely related language Mohawk, the epenthetic /e/
still exists and is not any different in its realization from
non-epenthetic /e/. Furthermore, the quality of the lengthened vowel can
be easily explained by the coalescence analysis. For example, if the V
in the CerV sequence was a back vowel, the outcome is a lengthened front
vowel (*Cero > Ce:); if it was a low vowel, the outcome was a lengthened
raised vowel (*Cera > Cae:). These changes in vowel quality cannot be
easily explained as having been caused by the onset-r, since the 'r' in
Iroquoian - where it still exists - has been described by Lounsbury
(1978) as a retroflex lateral flap, which we would not expect to cause
any fronting. Even though I was not convinced by the author's
interpretation of these particular data, overall the phonetic motivation
for compensatory lengthening was well illustrated by the author, and I
would recommend this book to anybody interested in this area.


Lounsbury, F. 1978. Iroquouian languages. In: Bruce Trigger (ed.) Handbook
of North American Indians 15, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Heike Lehnert-LeHouillier is a PhD student in the linguistics department at the University at Buffalo. She is interested in the phonetic and phonological aspects of word and sentence prosody, laboratory phonology and phonetics as well as in Iroquoian linguistics.

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