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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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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.

First and foremost, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my supervisor, Professor Jerzy Rubach, whose invaluable help and advice were vital to the completion of this work. Professor Rubach has always been extremely gracious to talk through the smallest details of any analysis that came to my mind and has always managed to dispel all the disheartening doubts. Had it not been for his inspiring attitude, captivating charisma and encouragement, this book would have still been incomplete. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to develop myself phonologically and personally under his guidance as an MA student and during the subsequent years of Ph.D. studies. The numerous conversations that I was fortunate to have with Professor Rubach were always edifying and unforgettable.

My huge appreciation goes to Małgosia Čavar and Anotnio Oštarič, thanks to whom I had the pleasure and the possibility of working on an international project, which resulted in the experiment presented in Chapter 4. Their companionship and optimistic attitude made all the experimental work extremely enjoyable.

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