• Phonetic Detail in Phonology

      Flemming, Edward; Suzuki, Keiichiro; Elzinga, Dirk; Stanford University (Department of Linguistics, University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ), 1995)
      Assimilation and coarticulation both involve extending the duration of some property or feature. The similarities between these phenomena can be seen by comparing Basque vowel raising with vowel -to -vowel coarticulation in a language like English. In Basque the low vowel /a/ is raised to [el following a high vowel. This gives rise to alternations in the form of the definite suffix, /-a/ (de Rijk 1970): (1) sagar –a; 'apple (def.)'; mutil-e 'boy (def.)'. In an English sequence containing a low vowel preceded by a high vowel, like [-ilæ-] in 'relapse', the high vowel also conditions raising of the low vowel. But in spite of the parallels between these cases, standard analyses regard Basque vowel raising as phonological whereas the English vowel raising is regarded as non-phonological, being attributed to a phonetic process of coarticulation. In this paper, we will argue that this distinction is untenable. We will see that coarticulation can affect the distribution of contrasts, and therefore must be specified in the phonology. This opens up the possibility of giving a unified analysis of assimilation and coarticulation. Analyzing coarticulation as phonological implies that phonological representations contain far more phonetic detail than is usually assumed to be the case. Vowel-to-vowel coarticulation involves fine degrees of partial assimilation in that vowels assimilate only partially in quality, and the effects may extend through only part of the duration of a segment (e.g. Ohman 1966). This conclusion thus flies in the face of the standard assumption that the richness of phonological representations should be severely restricted in order to avoid over-predicting the range of possible phonological contrasts. So before we turn to evidence that coarticulation is phonological, we will lay the groundwork by examining the arguments for limiting the detail in phonological representations and show that they are based on very questionable assumptions.