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Linguistics Colloquium

Position-sensitive transparency in vowel harmony: A gestural account

Rachel Walker
University of California, Santa Cruz
Fri May 3rd 2024, 3:00 - 4:30pm
Margaret Jacks Hall, Greenberg Room (Room 126)

Abstract: A recent typological study of position privilege in vowel harmony observes that while prominent positions may uniquely block harmony, they are not singled out as positions for transparency (Kaplan & Walker to appear). This typological gap is not predicted under traditional theoretical assumptions. If transparent vowels are skipped by harmony, then a grammar is predicted in which a positional faithfulness constraint designated for the stressed syllable and a spreading imperative constraint are enforced at the cost of the constraint that penalizes skipping: ˈσ-Faithfulness >> Spreading Imperative >> No-Skipping. In this scenario, harmony would operate among unstressed vowels but skip those that are stressed. This talk employs the representations of gestural phonology (Browman & Goldstein 1986, 1995) to address this unwanted prediction, centering on two key points. First, spreading does not actually skip vowels, so transparent vowels have overlapping (co-active) opposing gestures. “Transparency” results when the goal state of the harmonizing gesture is not achieved due to blending with a co-active opposing gesture (Gafos & Benus 2006, Smith 2018). Second, stressed vowels resist transparency because they are a locus of hyperarticulation due to a prosodic µ-gesture (Katsika & Tsai 2021), and they are resultingly not receptive to co-active opposing gestures.

A formal analysis is developed in the framework of Optimality Theory. In the gestural approach to harmony, transparent vowels violate a version of a constraint *Overlap(Gest-x, Gest-y) (Smith 2018) that prohibits overlap of opposing gestures. In this talk, it is proposed that *Overlap constraints may be sensitive to prosodic position by including µ-gestures, which are associated with a metrically prominent position: *Overlap(Gest-µ, Gest-x, Gest-y). The prosodically sensitive *Overlap constraint stands in a stringency relation with the general *Overlap constraint, which can drive asymmetric transparency in unstressed vowels but not stressed vowels. The proposal is illustrated in application to laxing/RTR harmony in the Eastern Andalusian Spanish variety of Granada (Jiménez & Lloret 2007, 2020, Lloret & Jiménez 2009), in which unstressed vowels may be transparent but stressed vowels consistently harmonize. There is also variation in whether harmony operates in the full word domain. In addition to empirically demonstrating issues surrounding positional asymmetries in transparency, three patterns of variation in the harmony pattern of Eastern Andalusian Spanish are examined and analyzed in the gestural approach.

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