The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 4/11 - Suyeon Yun

Speaker: Suyeon Yun
Date/Time: 11 April (Wed), 5 pm
Location: 32D-831
Title: Epenthesis Positioning in Loan Adaptation: Phonetics, Phonology, Typology

In loan adaptation, vowel epenthesis frequently occurs as a repair, when a cluster of a source language is phonotactically illegal in the borrowing language. The most notable previous finding has been that the position of epenthetic vowels differs depending on the type of cluster; sonority- rising clusters, especially stop-sonorant (TR), are more likely to be split by an epenthetic vowel than sonority-falling clusters, especially sibilant-stop (ST), e.g., ‘plastic’ > [bilastik] (internal epenthesis) vs. ‘study’ > [istadi] (external epenthesis) (Egyptian Arabic; Broselow 1992).

This study investigates epenthesis patterns in all possible types of clusters, both in word-initial and in word-final positions, from a cross-linguistic survey of loanwords. From the results, I propose new generalizations about the preferred site of epenthesis: (i) if a cluster contains an obstruent, a vowel is epenthesized after the obstruent, e.g., ‘camp’ > [khɛmphɨ] (Korean); (ii) if a cluster contains a sonorant, a vowel is epenthesized before the sonorant, e.g., rubl (Russian) > [rubɯl] (Kirgiz).

By focusing only on initial clusters (Gouskova 2003, Steriade 2006) or on ST and TR clusters (Broselow 1992, Fleischhacker 2001, 2005), previous work has failed to identify the current broad generalizations and cannot uniformly explain the cases where the epenthesis patterns are different word-initially and word-finally, e.g., mnemonicheskij (Russ.) > [ymnemonicheskij] ‘mnemonic’ (Kirghiz) with external epenthesis vs. gimn (Russian) > [gimun] ‘hymn’ (Kirghiz) with internal epenthesis. My hypothesis is that the typology results from perceptual similarity between a consonant and its epenthesized form. Specifically, an obstruent is perceptually more similar to an obstruent-vowel sequence than to a vowel-obstruent, and a sonorant is perceptually more similar to a vowel-sonorant sequence than to a sonorant-vowel. I will show relevant phonetic bases and experimental results supporting this hypothesis. Based on this, the typology will be analyzed based on the P-map hypothesis (Steriade 2001/2009).