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Backness Distinction in Phonology

A Polish Perspective on the Phonemic Status of «y»


Paweł Rydzewski

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.

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Chapter 5: Conclusions


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Chapter 5 Conclusions

The aim of this book was to analyze phonological consequences of the single-phoneme approach which does not recognize the vowel //ɨ//. It has been shown that the lack of //ɨ// among the underlying segments in Polish leads to dire results and dephonologizes the sound system of Polish.

The problem of //ɨ// has been prevalent in phonological theory since the onset of the study of sounds. As shown in Chapter 1, scholars have disagreed on the exact nature of the segment, assigning to it the status of a phoneme or an allophone. Gussmann (2007) mentions the distributional gap of [ɨ], in particular its absence word-initially, as one of the arguments against the phonemic status of [ɨ]. However, the fact that the segment is not present at the beginning of words does not constitute an argument in the discussion because, for instance, there are languages where certain segments are notoriously absent in a given position and yet are treated as phonemes. One of such languages is English. There exists an indisputable agreement that the vowel [ʊ] is a phoneme despite the fact that there are virtually no words that begin with this sound. Therefore, the distributional argument should be disregarded. On the other hand, some studies deny the existence of //ɨ// completely (Padgett 2001, 2003, 2010). Nonetheless, as shown in Chapter 2 and Chapter 3, the absence of //ɨ// has direct repercussions on Polish palatalization. Palatalization of coronal segments reveals...

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