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Query Details

Query Subject:   Russian Oxytone Nouns in /og/: Stable or Unstable?
Author:   Brent de Chene
Submitter Email:  click here to access email

Linguistic LingField(s):  Phonology

Query:   It is well-known (see e.g. Kenstowicz and Kisseberth 1977:33) that Russian
has a small number of noun stems that alternate between a form that shows
the effects of final devoicing of obstruents and a form that shows the
effect of reduction of (immediately) pretonic /o/ to /a/, as in (1) (stress
is on the first vowel of the suffix if there is one and on the last vowel
of the stem otherwise).

(1) a. pirok ''pie (Nom/Acc Sg)''
b. pirag-a ''id. (Gen Sg)''

A priori, one might reason about this situation in either of the following
two ways (at least):

(A) Since there is a tendency for speakers to prefer basic or underlying
forms that coincide with surface allomorphs, we would expect the situation
in (1) to be (potentially) unstable.

1. If the oblique stem allomorph is taken as basic and the underlying form
is thus /pirag/, the Nominative/Accusative allomorph [pirok] will become
exceptional and potentially subject to replacement with a ''regular'' form
2. If the Nominative/Accusative stem allomorph is taken as basic and the
underlying form is thus /pirok/, on the other hand, the oblique stem
allomorph [pirag-] will become exceptional and potentially subject to
replacement with a ''regular'' form [pirak-].

(B) Since both of the alternations involved are entirely automatic, there
is no reason to expect the situation in (1) to be unstable; the underlying
form of the stem is /pirog/, even though that form coincides with neither
of the two surface stem allomorphs.

I am not aware of any data indicating whether or not the potential
instability predicted in (A) is actually observed in any relevant variety
of Russian (or other East Slavic language). In particular, on scenario
(A1), we would expect potential variation in the Nom/Acc form between
''irregular'' [pirok] and ''regular'' [pirak], and on scenario (A2), we
would expect potential variation in suffixed forms between e.g.
''irregular'' [pirag-a] and ''regular'' [pirak-a]. I would very much
appreciate hearing on this subject from people who are specialists and/or
native speakers and will post a summary if warranted.

Kenstowicz, Michael, and Charles Kisseberth. 1977. Topics in Phonological
Theory. New York: Academic Press.
LL Issue: 18.1382
Date posted: 07-May-2007


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