The Phonological Component of Phonetic Change (Josef Fruehwald, 2011)

Here is a link to the PDF of Josef Fruehwald’s (of University of Pennsylvania) 2011 NWAV 40 “New Perspectives on Vowel Shifting” panel presentation entitled “The Phonological Component of Phonetic Change.” This paper is essentially a companion to Durian and Joseph’s “The Role of Phonetic Analogy in Vowel Shifts,” also presented in the panel (see previous blog entry), which could be said to describe the phonetic component.

Below is the abstract for Fruehwald’s paper:

Phonetic change must be treated as qualitatively di fferent from nearly all other kinds of language
change. Syntactic, morphological and phonological change all progress as the changing frequency
of use of categorical and competing linguistic objects, or processes (Kroch, 1989). Phonetic change
and its paradigmatic cases, vowel shifts, appear to progress as a continuous change in the quality
of use of a linguistic object. My proposal for capturing this property of phonetic change is to treat
it as changing phonetic implementation of relatively stable phonological objects. This approach captures both the continuous nature of phonetic change, and the role that categorical phonology appears to play in vowel shifts (e.g. segmental unity and the “binding force” (Labov, 2010)). It also opens clearer theoretical connections between the study of phonetic change, and phonological theory.

For example, the possible units of phonetic change ought to be the same as the units of phonetic
implementation. Phonological features are implicated as units of phonetic implementation in the
generative phonetics literature (e.g. Cohn (1993)), and parallel phonetic changes which a ffect entire
natural classes, like the Canadian Shift (Boberg, 2005), can be described a change in the implementation of the feature which de fines the class, providing an explanatory account for the phonetic analogy discussed by Durian (2009) and Durian & Joseph (2011).

This approach also implies the conditional relationship: unity in surface phonology -> unity
in phonetic change. Cases of unity or disunity in phonetic change, then, can be taken as a form
of phonological evidence. For example, /ow/ and /owl/ are moving in opposite directions in the
American South (Labov et al., 2006), indicating that there must be phonological process a ffecting
/ow/ before /l/.

By formulating the mechanism of phonetic change in this way, we open a clear path for the study
of phonetic change to inform phonological theory, and vice versa.


About daviddurian
I am a sociolinguist with a Ph D in Linguistics from The Ohio State University. Currently, I work as the Lecturer at Rice University, where I teach undergraduate courses in both sociolinguistics and general linguistics. I also work on research projects investing language variation and change in US English a variety of cities. Specifically, at the moment, this includes Houston, Chicago, and Columbus, OH.

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