Modeling gradient processes in Polabian vowel chain shifting and blocking
This paper presents an analysis of two interacting sound changes in the extinct West Slavic language Polabian. Polabian is known to have two types of vowel innovations: (i) the incorporation of acoustic properties from consonant secondary co-articulations (either palatalization or velarization) and (ii) a systematic rotation of vowels (Timberlake 1995). This paper argues that the innovation in (ii) is a vowel chain shift similar to those analyzed in Labov (1994). Unlike the other languages surveyed in Labov (1994), Polabian has phonologically predictable exceptions to the general direction of vowel movement through the acoustic space. Unlike previous work on Polabian, this paper proposes that the vowel chain shift operated simultaneously with the innovation in (i) resulting in phonologically predictable exceptions. This paper tests Timberlake’s (1995) proposal and the current proposal in a Harmonic Grammar (Flemming 2001) which uses Purcell’s (1979) acoustic data from Russian as a proxy. The model only captures the correct distribution of vowel reflexes under the assumption that co-articulatory based innovations and vowel chain shifting were active at the same time.
Keywords: vowel chain shifting, sound change exception, predictive modeling, Slavic, extinct language, acoustic proxy
Published online: 16 April 2021
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