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  • Sound Change, Abstract Representations, and Simplicity
  • Wayne P. Lawrence

One criticism often leveled against generative/abstract phonology is that there is no psychological justification for the view that the brain/ mind operates according to principles of "simplicity" and "economy." For example, Jaeger (1986:74) writes that "[n]early all studies of speech perception and production indicate that something close to surface forms exists in memory . . . and that words are stored with much redundancy."

In this squib, I will present two historically and geographically unrelated examples of sporadic, irregular, historical changes in individual lexical items which strongly suggest that, in at least some speakers' mental representation of the prechange form, the words were being given a rather abstract representation not motivated by any language-specific details of the morphosyntax. Both examples are of words where adjacent syllables are (near-)identical: kasusu in one case, sizimi in the other. These change to kakasu and hibimi, respectively. These sound changes are amenable to a natural explanation only if they are considered to have taken place on some representation that explicitly notated them as instances of reduplication. What is noteworthy, however, is that these words are not historically due to any reduplication process, nor is there any synchronic reduplication process that appears to be relevant to them. In other words, the language speaker/learner has made the abstraction that these words contain a reduplicated syllable, with no more evidence for it than the actual pronunciation of the words.

1 Two Sound Changes

The Northern Okinawan dialect of the community of Yaka has the word kakasu '(edible) sea urchin', the Proto-Okinawan form of which is reconstructed as *gacucu.1 In Proto-Northern-Okinawan, both affricates (c = [ts]) in this form irregularly became s. The immediate predecessor of Yaka kakasu is thought to have been *kasusu, and indeed this is the form attested in the dialect of the Kin community, located about seven kilometers east of Yaka. Assuming some kind of reduplicative function (informally represented here as a postposed R ), the change *kasusukakasu can be interpreted as *kasuRkaRsu (i.e., as a movement of the reduplicative function within the word), reflecting a probable confusion about the locus of reduplication on the part of the speaker who triggered this historical change.2 [End Page 346]

In this squib, I use R as a segmentally empty reduplicative function that is subject to specification of unit (mora, syllable, foot, etc.) and direction. I have arbitrarily selected reference to the left (i.e., to the preceding unit), but reference to the right would work as well: *kaRsuRkasu. R differs from the function RED used in Optimality Theory analyses insofar as RED is restricted to being a morpheme (specifically, an affix) (McCarthy and Prince 1999:232), whereas there is no evidence to support morphemic status of the reduplicant in the examples given in this squib.

Standard Japanese sizimi 'corbicula (a small freshwater bivalve)'3 is recorded in written form as hibimi on at least two separate occasions.4 Confusion of si [∫i] and hi [çi] is common in many dialects of Japanese, with hi tending to be pronounced as si in Tokyo Japanese (Vance 1987:22); so, in the Tokyo Japanese situation, sihi would be an instance of hypercorrection. However, the change zi [(d)Ʒi] → bi in the second syllable is a very unnatural change that can be explained only if the second syllable is viewed as related to the word-initial syllable through reduplication. In Japanese, b is functionally the voiced equivalent of h, so zi stands in the same relationship to si as bi does to hi. Both the prechange and the postchange forms can be viewed as involving reduplication of the word-initial syllable, coupled with voicing (1).5

(1) s i R        m i → h i R        m i [+∫i(d)Çimi → çibimi]
       [+voi]        [+voi]

2 Discussion

The two examples given above are monomorphemic, both synchronically and historically as far back as their history can be traced. Word formation processes in these languages provide no evidence that reduplication is involved in the make-up of these words. In spite of this, sound changes indicate that the representation of these forms at the...


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