The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 3/16 - Lilla Magyar

Speaker: Lilla Magyar (MIT)
Title: The role of universal markedness in Hungarian gemination processes
Date: Monday, March 16th
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32D-831

Gemination in loanwords is a cross-linguistically widespread phenomenon attested in such languages as Japanese (Kubozono et al. 2008), Finnish (Karvonen 2009), Italian (Passino 2004), Telugu (Krishnamurti & Gwynn 1985) and Hungarian (Nádasdy 1989; Törkenczy 1989 and Kertész 2006), amongst many others. The process involves lengthening of a singleton consonant which is preceded by a short (stressed) vowel in the source word, even when gemination does not have an orthographic reflex in the source word. None of the source languages allow phonetic geminates and all of the borrowing languages do. Furthermore, none of the borrowing languages require geminates phonotactically in the positions where lengthening happens in loanwords.

In Hungarian, borrowings from English and German (and occasionally, from French) participate in this process. The propensity of loanwords to undergo gemination depends on the position of the consonant. Gemination is most predictable in monosyllables (e.g. fitt (Eng. fit)). In other contexts, it primarily applies when the consonant in question is spelt with a double consonant letter in the source word (e.g. koffer (G. Koffer ‘suitcase’)) or when the word ends with -er (e.g. szvetter (Eng. sweater)).

Apart from position, consonant class also determines whether a consonant is likely to be geminated or not. Even though practically all consonants can be geminated in the native Hungarian phonology, not all consonants can undergo gemination in loanwords, and even those which can, do so to different degrees. The ranking of consonants undergoing gemination in loanwords lines up with hierarchies of universal geminate markedness, which potentially supports the hypothesis that Hungarian speakers are drawing on their knowledge of this universal hierarchy. However, before we can conclude this, we must ask whether a less direct mechanism could be at play: phonetic pressures shape the native lexicon, and learners learn the preference from that.

The goal of the present study is to test the following hypotheses: (1) Even native speakers of Hungarian (a language which allows all kinds of geminates) have some awareness of universal geminate markedness. (2) This knowledge comes from the native lexicon: the frequency distribution of geminates in the native phonology reflects patterns of universal markedness. (3) These patterns can be learned from the native Hungarian lexicon based on phonotactic generalisations.