Backness Distinction in Phonology

A Polish Perspective on the Phonemic Status of «y»

by Paweł Rydzewski (Author)
©2016 Monographs 144 Pages
Series: Lodz Studies in Language, Volume 50


This book discusses the phonological consequences of the backness distinction in high vowels. It focuses on a single-phoneme approach which does not recognize the existence of the vowel y. The author demonstrates that the role of y is crucial for the analysis of Polish palatalization. If y is recognized as a separate phoneme, then the processes receive a straightforward account in Lexical Phonology and Optimality Theory, the two frameworks used in the study. On the other hand, the absence of y leads to unwarranted exceptionality and entails an extensive use of diacritics or lexical constraints. The analyses show, however, that the lack of y is empirically unfeasible and requires segment indexation, a solution unheard of in phonology.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Symbols and Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • 1.1. Goals of the book
  • 1.2. Polish segment inventories
  • 1.3. Lexical Phonology: theoretical background
  • 1.3.1. LP architecture
  • 1.4. Optimality Theory: theoretical background
  • 1.4.1. OT architecture
  • 1.4.2. Markedness and faithfulness
  • 1.5. Selective outline of phonological approaches to //ɨ//
  • 1.5.1. Kazan School of Linguistics
  • 1.5.2. Leningrad School of Linguistics
  • 1.5.3. Prague School Phonology
  • 1.5.4. Generative Phonology
  • 1.5.5. Czaykowska-Higgins (1988) and Gussmann (2007)
  • 1.5.6. Padgett (2001, 2003, 2010)
  • Chapter 2: Palatalization of coronals
  • 2.1. Introduction
  • 2.2. Palatalization of coronals: basic generalizations
  • 2.3. Palatalization of coronals in Lexical Phonology: underlying //i// and //ɨ//
  • 2.4. Palatalization of coronals in Optimality Theory: underlying //i// and //ɨ//
  • 2.4.1. Palatalization in OT: a derivational account
  • 2.5. Palatalization of coronals in Lexical Phonology: no underlying //ɨ//
  • 2.6. Modularity in grammar
  • 2.7. Palatalization of coronals in Optimality Theory: no underlying //ɨ//
  • 2.7.1. Lexically indexed constraints
  • 2.8. Partial conclusions
  • Chapter 3: Palatalization of velars
  • 3.1. Introduction
  • 3.2. Palatalization of velars: basic generalizations
  • 3.3. Palatalization of velars in Lexical Phonology: underlying //i// and //ɨ//
  • 3.4. Palatalization of velars in Optimality Theory: underlying //i// and //ɨ//
  • 3.5. Palatalization of velars in Lexical Phonology: no underlying //ɨ//
  • 3.6. Palatalization of velars in Optimality Theory: no underlying //ɨ//
  • 3.6.1. Lexically indexed constraints
  • 3.6.2. Lexically indexed constraints: word-internal palatalization
  • 3.7. Partial conclusions
  • Chapter 4: Perception of contrast by Polish subjects
  • 4.1. Introduction
  • 4.2. Perception of contrast: transfer or universal strategy
  • 4.3. Bogacka (2004)
  • 4.3.1. Bogacka (2004): back vowels
  • 4.3.2. Bogacka (2004): front vowels
  • 4.4. Čavar, Rydzewski & Oštarič (2012a,b)
  • 4.4.1. Forced choice identification task
  • 4.5. Partial conclusions
  • Chapter 5: Conclusions
  • References

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This book provides an in-depth analysis of phonological consequences of abandoning the backness distinction in high vowels in Polish. The book examines whether the approach introduced in Padgett (2001, 2003, 2010), which does not recognize the existence of the underlying vowel //ɨ//, offers a tenable scenario. The analyses presented in the following chapters are couched in two phonological frameworks. For expository and comparative purposes, Lexical Phonology (Kiparsky 1982, Mohanan 1986, Booij & Rubach 1987) is chosen as the most recent rule-based framework. The results of rule-based derivations are juxtaposed with a constraint-based theory, Optimality Theory (Prince & Smolensky 1994, McCarthy & Prince 1995). To examine the single-phonemic approach, palatalization processes in the class of coronals and velars are chosen as the material for inquiry. This book is organized as follows.

Chapter 1 presents goals of the book and delineates the two theoretical frameworks, Lexical Phonology and Optimality Theory, which shall be utilized throughout the book. The chapter provides a brief introduction to the Polish sound system, focusing on its consonants and vowels. The final sections of the chapter comprise an outline of phonological approaches to //ɨ//, which offer a historical perspective on the phonemic status of the vocalic segment.

Chapter 2 addresses palatalization processes in the class of coronals. As the starting point of the discussion, the rules of Coronal Palatalization and Surface Palatalization have been chosen. First, the application of the rules is analyzed from the perspective of Lexical Phonology under the assumption that Polish recognizes underlying //ɨ//. Upon a thorough examination of the two processes, it is shown that the rules fulfill the requirements of genuine phonological rules and should be regarded as such. Subsequently, the same palatalization processes are recast in Optimality Theory. It is argued that Polish has the most robust palatalization effects among Slavic languages and shown that a standard version of Optimality theory is unable to handle Polish data. It is necessary to appeal to level distinction and reanalyze the evaluation in Derivational Optimality Theory (Kiparsky 1997, 2000; Rubach 1997, 2000a,b, 2003a,b, 2005, 2007) to generate the attested outputs. Additionally, it is illustrated that Polish processes should be viewed as a sum of palatalization reflexes found in other Slavic languages. This typological approach is possible due to the application of universal constraints that are employed in the evaluation. The second part of the chapter constitutes a reanalysis of Coronal Palatalization and Surface Palatalization in Lexical Phonology and Optimality ← 7 | 8 → Theory under the single-phoneme assumption which does not recognize //ɨ//. Given the approach, the lack of //ɨ// enforces the introduction and extensive use of diacritics in derivations in order to specify the context of palatalization before every [i]-initial suffix. This, on the other hand, leads to the proliferation of rules which reflect the diacritically specified contexts. Additionally, diacritic marking delegates the previously genuine phonological rules to the domain of morphology, ridding the processes of their phonological status. Another argument against the single-phoneme approach is found in the concept of modularity of the human mind (Fodor 1983), which questions the interaction of diacritics with phonological rules. Next, the single-phoneme approach is reanalyzed from the perspective of optimality-theoretic framework. It is proven that the theory cannot afford the absence of //ɨ// and requires constraint indexation (Pater 2000, 2006, 2008). Although the solution generates attested output forms despite the excessive proliferation of indexed constraints, it is argued that lexical indexation fails on empirical grounds when considering new borrowings or nonce words.

Chapter 3 is structurally parallel to Chapter 2. It sets off with the description of palatalization in the class of velars. Here, the main focus is given to the rules of First Velar Palatalization, Velar Fronting and Retraction. Similarly to Chapter 2, the rules are first analyzed from the perspective of Lexical Phonology under the assumption that //ɨ// exists as a phoneme. Moreover, it is confirmed that the rules should be regarded as genuine phonological processes. Later remodeling in Derivational Optimality Theory proves equally successful and confirms the necessity for level distinction in Optimality Theory. Similarly to Chapter 2, the rules of First Velar Palatalization, Velar Fronting and Retraction are further reanalyzed in Lexical Phonology and Optimality Theory under the assumption that does not recognize the underlying //ɨ//. It is shown that the use of diacritics in Lexical Phonology is necessary and leads to the unmotivated proliferation of rules, which cannot be regarded as genuine phonological processes anymore. As far as the evaluations in Optimality Theory are concerned, lexical indexation of morphemes is necessary to account for the allophonic palatalization of consonants. Nevertheless, morpheme indexation does not offer a completely viable solution and it is crucial to introduce segment indexation in the analyses. However, the solution, unheard of in phonology, is empirically unfeasible, which leads to the conclusion that the single-phoneme approach must be rejected.

Chapter 4 provides a phonetically-based arguments for the existence of //ɨ// in Polish. The chapter delineates experiments conducted by Bogacka (2004) and Čavar, Rydzewski & Oštarič (2012a,b). It is illustrated that the latter offers ← 8 | 9 → the most adequate evidence for the existence of //ɨ//, and thus validates the theoretical evidence from the preceding chapters.

Chapter 5 recapitulates the main ideas and results of the analyses in the form of conclusions.

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I have realized from various works of other people, as well as my own personal experience, that this is the most eagerly read section in any written work. Thus, I would like to use this opportunity and credit those to whom I am greatly indebted.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (April)
Phonology Indexed constraints Optimality Theory Palatalization Slavic languages Lexical exceptions
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2016. 144 pp., 11 b/w ill., 38 b/w tables

Biographical notes

Paweł Rydzewski (Author)

Paweł Rydzewski is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the University of Warsaw. His research interests include phonology, morphology and Slavic languages.


Title: Backness Distinction in Phonology
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