13th Old World Conference in Phonology, Eötvös Loránd University and the Research Institute for Linguistics, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary
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(with Máire Ní Chiosáin)
We present the results of an acoustic study of the interaction of consonant palatalization and vowel backness in Irish and Scottish Gaelic short vowels. Previous descriptions of Irish (but usually not of Scottish Gaelic) often describe the distribution of front vs. back nonlow vowels as predictable (allophonic). This makes Irish a potential example of a vertical vowel system. However, the sources are mostly impressionistic, and also tend to underplay the extent of variation within and across lexical items. Our study shows that the magnitude of coarticulation, whilst statistically detectable, is insufficient to account for the full range of front-back distinction. It is also comparable in Irish and in Scottish Gaelic. We argue that the interaction of palatalization and vowel backness in both languages is manifested both phonetically (as coarticulation) and phonologically (as symbolic fronting and backing rules), a situation described by Bermúdez-Otero (2015) as ‘rule scattering’. However, unlike other cases of rule scattering, the categorical pattern did not arise directly by phonologization of the gradient one.