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4 LEVELS OF SOUND- AND WORD-STRUCTURE 4.1. WHY SOME RUSSIAN PHONOLOGICAL RULES ARE ABSTRACT “History” in the ordinary sense of the word is a narrative of how things happened in the past, in a way that attempts to capture most significant details . In descriptive linguistics, history often means something more modest, that today’s state of affairs bears the imprint of events which preceded or underlie it, about which most people are in some sense aware, reduced to a simplified scheme. A synchronic understanding of the verb-form лу involves the appreciation that  in this word is derivationally (hence, in some sense, historically) related to с. An accurate synchronic description of the verb л с  лу cannot help but take account of this fact, one way or another. There is no need in a synchronic description of this and other such words to account for the relationship of с to  in terms of real and complete history, by attempting to retrace the literal phonetic factors which originally caused the assimilative change of с to  before what was once the suffix - - in this word. Still, it is useful to make use of one’s knowledge of history when formulating a synchronic description. Indeed, it would be strange not to. In a synchronic grammar, the derivation лс- -у: лу can be said to depend on a rule: с →  / — , paraphrased as “с is derivationally related to  in a way that can be efficiently captured by supposing that с goes to  before .” When one refers to the DERIVATIONAL HISTORY of a word like лу in a course in synchronic morphology, one is usually using “history” not literally, but in a figurative and schematic sense. 4.1.1. THE VIEWPOINT OF RADICAL SYNCHRONIC-HISTORICISM It is possible to maintain that descriptions of phenomena should not set artificial limits, but should aim toward representing universal knowledge, including the fact that the nasal vowel /o˛/ underlies у in, say, о. According to this view, history in the all-relevant-detail sense does become part of the synchronic linguistic picture, even though no individual 90 4. LEVELS OF SOUND- AND WORD-STRUCTURE mind could ever encompass it, and even though often such facts, as here, have no great relevance to practical points at hand. Similarly, the fact that probably no linguistically untrained speaker of Russian senses that к and к  share the same root should be no impediment to describing them as such, for one should not be bound in a description by individual human limitations. There are no decisive arguments against this viewpoint . However, practicality dictates the setting of boundaries beyond which one chooses not to go in a given context. The radical synchronic-historical viewpoint encounters difficulties when synchrony does not reflect diachrony straightforwardly, but rather in a way that cannot be successfully investigated or systematically described, unless possibly psychologically. The word лд л д according to its contemporary shape should have derived from *liˇd-; in fact the historical root was *led-, which would have been expected to lead to лд *лд. The treatment of the vowel as mobile in contemporary Russian is anomalous. Possibly someone at one time made a “mistake” which eventually caught on with all speakers, but one will never know. The mobile vowels in сс Gpl. сс and л Gpl. л are likewise etymologically spurious. The forms д NApl. д convey that the synchronic root vowel is ; however, historically, it was , and the appearance of  is unexplained; and so on. It is difficult to describe such facts, relating to inexplicable disjunctures between history and synchrony, other than by giving discursive and mostly speculative explanations. 4.1.2. ABSTRACT PHONOLOGY By ABSTRACT PHONOLOGY is meant phonological processes which rely on rules that are not fully automatic and logical, or which, in any case, do not make reference to the concrete phonetic features of which phonemes are composed. To some, “abstract phonology” means relying on rules which refer to phonological features which are manifested in a language only indirectly. For example, some analyses of the sound-structure of Russian include nasal vowels in its inventory, even though vowel nasality cannot actually be detected, but merely inferred from alternations like ~ м in, say  о м. The item here reflects a historical front nasal vowel /ę/ which came from м /I¨¨ˇm/ before a consonant. Such analyses also posit the concrete short vowels /I¨¨ˇ/ and /u¨¨ˇ/ in the vowel inventory, instead of abstract operators like §§§§ and §§ . An approach like this strikes most people as strained. One probably needs to accept that some historical phonological states are just too remote to be seen as literally underlying the contemporary language, even though the effects these states...


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