The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 11/16 - Rafael Abramovitz

Speaker: Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)
Title: Morphologically-conditioned restrictions on vowel distribution in Koryak
Date: Monday, November 16th
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32-D831

When the morphemes of a language display systematic alternations in vowel quality based on other morphemes present in the same word, we usually consider vowel harmony to be the culprit. Based on the properties of the controllers of harmony, the attested vowel harmony systems can be roughly divided into two types: position-controlled systems and dominant-recessive systems. In both cases, standard analyses from various frameworks account for this phenomenon by appealing to the phonological features (or lack thereof) of the controlling and harmonizing vowels. In this presentation, I will argue that Koryak, a Chukotko-Kamchatkan language of the Russian Far East, displays systematic alternations in the quality of the vowels in its morphemes that are strongly reminiscent of dominant-recessive vowel harmony, but that these alternations cannot be accounted for by only appealing to the featural specifications of the various vowels. I will show that these alternations can only be captured by treating the harmonizing features as a property of morphemes, and will present two possible implementations of this idea, each of which requires the existence of yet-not-well-accepted machinery in either the phonological grammar or the set of post-syntactic operations. In particular, I will suggest that an explanation of the Koryak data requires there to be either constraints on the underlying representations, or a mechanism for percolating morpheme-level diacritics through the syntactic structure at PF.