The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 5/20 - Michelle Fullwood

Speaker: Michelle Fullwood
Title: The perceptual dimensions of sonority-driven epenthesis
Time/Date: Monday, May 20, 2pm (Note special time)
Location: 32-D831

Vowel epenthesis often appears to preferentially target consonant clusters with rising sonority. One explanation for this tendency is perceptual faithfulness (Fleischhacker 2002, Steriade 2006): rising sonority clusters are more susceptible to epenthesis because the perceptual distance between the underlying /C1 C2/ sequence and its correspondent output sequence [C1 V C2] is small, thus incurring a smaller faithfulness cost.

This raises the question of how to compute the perceptual distance between two sonority contours. I propose that the appropriate metric is Sonority Angle, defined to be the angle formed by C1-C2 and C1-V. Given a standard sonority scale mapping classes of consonants to numerical sonority, this metric predicts a certain hierarchy of susceptibility to epenthesis for consonant clusters.

I present two case studies of sonority-driven epenthesis in Chaha (Ethiopia; Southern Semitic) and Irish (Celtic) that demonstrate the correctness of certain rankings of clusters in the hierarchy, in contrast with alternative proposals.