The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 2/27 - Kevin Ryan (Harvard University)

Speaker: Kevin Ryan (Harvard University)
Title: Superheavy avoidance in meter
Time: Wednesday (2/27), 5:00pm-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831


Superheavies are known to be marked, as demonstrated by processes such as closed syllable shortening. Additionally, metrists have reported that poets disprefer locating superheavies in cadences, that is, in line endings, where the meter is strictest (e.g. Hoenigswald 1989 on Vedic and 1991 on Homeric). I verify this finding using broader and better controlled statistical tests and extend it to certain other languages. I add that superheavy avoidance, though strongest in the cadence, is evident throughout the line. Moreover, it is gradient; for instance, ultraheavies are even more strongly avoided relative to their baseline incidence.

To analyze superheavy avoidance, one could simply index *Superheavy to the relevant constituents (e.g. *Superheavy_cadence) and call it a day, as I have previously. This is unsatisfactory in a few ways. First, as such, it doesn’t capture gradient weight, though it could easily be augmented by stringent or scalar mapping to fix that (cf. Ryan 2011). Second, in general, marked structure is not avoided in cadences. For example, in Vedic, codas, retroflexes, and vowel hiatus are all marked, but none is avoided in cadences. Thus, we shouldn’t open the door to constraints like NoCoda_cadence and Onset_cadence; rather, we should explain why specifically overweight is a problem. Third, not all quantitative traditions exhibit superheavy avoidance, so we should explain its confinement to certain languages/meters. I attempt to address all of these questions through an analysis in terms of phonetic lapse (Stanton 2019).