The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 10/2 - Chiyuki Ito (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, ILCAA & MIT)

Speaker: Chiyuki Ito (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, ILCAA & MIT)
Title: A Sociophonetic Study of the Ternary Laryngeal Contrast in Yanbian Korean
Date/Time: Monday, 2 October, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

This paper investigates the three-way tense-lax-aspirated laryngeal contrast for stop consonants in Yanbian Korean. Data from 61 speakers (DoB 1935-1992) finds three phonetic correlates dependent on laryngeal type, place of articulation, tone, gender, age, and sub-dialect. VOT has significantly shortened over apparent time. The difference between lax and tense is relatively small but still distinguished reliably.

We compare our Yanbian result with the sound changes reported for Seoul Korean, and analyze them based on the dispersion theory of contrast (Flemming 2004). We show that both the Yanbian and Seoul Korean developments were motivated by the same mechanism: minimizing articulatory effort (*Long VOT) while maximizing the number of contrasts (Maximize Contrasts) and the distinctiveness of contrasts (Mindist=VOT: Xms). An economy constraint (*Over-specify) is postulated to ban the ternary laryngeal contrast in the VOT dimension, which is over-differentiated, suggesting a change from ternary → binary distinction.

We point out that another alternative acoustic cue for the relevant laryngeal contrast existed before the VOT merger took place in both dialects. Thus, we conclude that Korean never had a laryngeal contrast based solely on the VOT dimension, and that the sound change that occurred in Seoul Korean is not a (typical case of) tonogenesis.