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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: The Role of the Listener in the Historical Phonology of Spanish and Portuguese: An Optimality-Theoretic account Add Dissertation
Author: Eric Holt Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Georgetown University, Department of Spanish and Portuguese
Completed in: 1997
Linguistic Subfield(s): Historical Linguistics; Phonology;
Subject Language(s): Latin
Director(s): Elizabeth Zsiga
Alfonso Morales-Front

Abstract: In this dissertation I study the application to historical sound change of a constraint-based approach to phonology. I employ Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky 1993, McCarthy and Prince 1993a,b) in the analysis of the principal changes in syllable structure that developed from Latin to Spanish and Portuguese. I argue that historical sound change is driven by the incorporation of phonetic factors into phonology for reasons of lexicon and grammar optimization, and show that the role of perception and reinterpretation by the listener is crucial in achieving this optimization. Additionally, reanalysis of underlying forms may have profound effects on the constraint hierarchy of the grammar, leading to the step-wise rise of markedness constraints versus f aithfulness constraints.

Furthermore, several steps in the historical development of certain phenomena of syllable structure and phonological/phonetic forms are best understood as resulting from effects of perception and (re-)interpretation by the hearer.

Chapter 1 discusses the need for theoretical approaches to historical change in additional to traditional ones, introduces theoretical machinery (Optimality Theory, lexicon optimization, moraic theory and its relation to sonority) and rev iews previous OT approaches to variation and change.

In Chapter 2 I show that reanalysis by the listener of phonetic differences leads to loss of vowel length distinctions in Late Latin, initiating massive changes in the distribution of long segme nts: a constraint disfavoring moraic consonants begins to rise, first reducing obstruent geminates and vocalizing syllable-final velars.

Chapter 3 continues to explore results of the loss of phonological vowel length. I first treat the evolution o f the seven-vowel system of Late Spoken Latin, and argue that reanalysis of the Latin Stress Rule led to vowel lengthening. Later developments lead to diphthongization of stressed open mid vowels in Old Spanish. I then show that geminate consonants are pr ogressively simplified, with the sonorants now being affected. Reduction leads to /n, l/ in Galician/Portuguese, but palatal /ny,ly/ in Old Spanish, where merger with Latin /n, l/ would have resulted.

Chapter 4 shows that the listener may (mis)int erpret one sound for a less marked one based on great acoustic similarity. In the development of Latin Cl clusters to Spanish, Galician and Portuguese -ch-, I argue that voicing assimilation yielded a cluster that was interpreted as the affricate [tS]. The Uniformity Condition is also reconsidered.

Chapter 5 summarizes the results of this study and offers several conclusions about historical sound change in Optimality Theory.