lecture-5.1 - Lecture notes 5.1 July 7 2009 1 Features and...

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Lecture notes: 5.1 July 7, 2009 1 Features and natural classes In the homework assignment, we found that [i] and [e] are allophones of the same phoneme, as are [u] and [o]. We can write rules for their distribution that look like this: (1) a. /i/ [e] before ö or q. b. /u/ [o] before ö or q. But there’s something fishy here that should concern us. [i] and [u] are both high vowels; [e] and [o] are both mid vowels, which correspond in front/backness with [i] and [u]. Both of these rules have the same environments. That’s awfully coincidental, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could talk about both of those in just one rule? (That this would be nice follows from a very basic assumption we often make in linguistics, that rules should be as few and as simple as possible. This comes from an even more basic point in the scientific method that we should make the fewest and strongest possible generalizations until we are forced to add to or nuance them.) We would also like to be able to unify “ ö or q” as something simpler. Can we do that? In fact we can – and we should! So we can state a rule like this: (2) High vowels mid before a uvular consonant. But there’s even more that we should notice here. Is it just a coincidence that this change happens in this environment? Are we just as likely to find another language where mid vowels become high next to a uvular consonant? No: this is a rule with solid articulatory grounding. Essentially: to make a high vowel, your tongue has to be very high up in your mouth. To make a uvular sound, the tongue needs to be pulled down and back. 1
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So we can think of the mid vowels we get as a compromise between the desire to articulate a high vowel, and the need to start moving the tongue into position for a uvular sound. In fact, a whole lot of phonology is rooted in interactions like this: articulation of one sound get “compromised” because we’re getting ready to articulate the next sound, or we’re carrying over something from the previous sound. To talk about this, we need appropriate terminology. We can discuss this in terms of gestures (or articulatory gestures). 2 Gestures Instead of thinking just of static places and manners of articulation, it is often important to think of speech as something dynamic , involving many moving parts constantly being reconfigured. It is often important to think of sounds as originating from actions, i.e. movements of the vocal organs. Think of the gestures for different articulations as movements towards certain targets. A target is something that one aims at but does not necessarily hit, perhaps because one is drawn off by also having to aim at another target. Gestures are the speakers (unconscious) goal, the movements of the vocal organs then serve to achieve the goal. They specify that the vocal tract should be constricted: (3) at a particular location to a particular degree for a particular duration.
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