Rebooting Slavic phonology

A view from Russian

October 22, 2020

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Categories:  Russian Phonological Theory Phonology-morphology interface

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The Slavic languages have historically played a very prominent role in the development of Western phonological theory, from some of the earliest pioneers of phonemic theory such as Jan Baudouin de Courtenay, Mikołaj Kruszewski and Lev Shcherba, through the Praguian structuralism of Nikolai Trubetzkoy and (early) Roman Jakobson, and to some of the foundational work of generative phonology. In particular, Morris Halle and Theodore Lightner offered comprehensive analyses of Russian phonology that relied heavily on multi-level derivations, abstract underlying representations and a suite of rules that largely recapitulated diachronic developments. These devices were widely taken up both in the analysis of other Slavic languages and more broadly within the generative phonological tradition.

In the present day, the phonological analysis of the Slavic languages is arguably still overshadowed by the frameworks set by these pioneers. On the one hand, much (although by no means all) current theoretical work within the SPE tradition (including ‘post-SPE’ constraint-based frameworks) still operates with assumptions inherited from this work; on the other hand, a number of productive traditions (notably those in Government Phonology and allied theories) in the analysis of Slavic are explicitly framed as alternatives to these approaches.

In this talk I sketch out an approach that both rejects the highly abstract analyses of early generative phonology and the wholesale rejection of the SPE tradition. I review some recent work in Russian phonology and argue that closer attention to the phonetics-phonology interface, featural representations, and contrast, combined with a fairly orthodox version of a stratal approach to morphology-phonology interaction, provides us with the means to make significant progress in the analysis of Russian, and likely the Slavic languages more broadly.

You can watch the talk below.

About me

I’m Pavel Iosad, and I’m a Senior Lecturer in the department of Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinburgh. ¶ You can always go to the start page to learn more.



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