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On the Boundaries of Phonology and Phonetics

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2.3.Noun-verb asymmetry as Base-Identity

In Nivkh, verbal and nominal stems differ from each other in one crucial morphological aspect; verbal stems should always end in a morphological extension but nominal stems do not. Or put differently, verbal stems never surface in isolation, whereas nominal stems do. This means that bare verbal stems cannot function as citation forms. Usually, the form with an infinitival suffix (-d, -t) provides the citation form.

Stem /a/ ‘to shoot~’ /ro/ ‘to take’

Infinitive a-d ro-d

(citation form)

‘when~’ a-an ro-an

/vo/ ‘village’ /ota/ ‘town’

Citation form vo ota

Allative vo-rox ota-rox

As mentioned in section 1, independent forms often exercise special influence on the realization of morphologically related forms in derived contexts. For instance, in certain varieties of English the existence of the form condense guarantees that the vowel of the second syllable in the morphologically related word condensation does not reduce to a schwa.

cond[]nsation comp[]nsation

cond[]nse comp[]nsate
Phonology would expect the unstressed vowel of condensation to surface with a schwa, as is the case with the structurally similar compensation. The usual explanation for this asymmetry is that the vowel reduction in condensation is blocked by virtue of the existence of the morphologically related form condense, which appears with a full vowel [] (Chomsky and Halle, 1968: 110-116). On the other hand, compensation lacks such a morphologically related form with a full vowel. Hence unstressed vowel reduces to a schwa, following the phonological norm of the language.

Another example comes from Korean. In Korean a stem-final consonant cluster surfaces only when it is followed by a vowel-initial suffix. In combination with a consonant-initial suffix, the cluster is simplified to a single consonant (Kenstowicz, 1996: 375).


Stem /kaps/ ‘price’ /talk/ ‘chicken’

Citation form kap tak

Nominative kaps-i talk-i

Comitative kap-k'wa tak-k'wa
In the speech of younger generation of Seoul, however, simplification over-applies to contexts where vowel-initial suffix follows the stem.

Nominative kap-i tak-i

Interestingly, this overgeneralization does not apply to verbal stems. Here the consonant cluster surfaces.

Stem /ps/ ‘not have’ /palk/

‘be bright’

Past-informal ps-ss- (*p-ss-) palk-ss-


Non-past-formal p-t'a pak-t'a

Kenstowicz analyzed the absence of the cluster simplification in verbal stems to be due to a lack of corresponding citation forms. As in Nivkh, verbal stems in Korean never appear in isolation; they should always appear with an inflectional ending. In contrast, nominal stems are free to appear without any inflectional ending, so they exercise strong influence on the realization of their derivatives. Verbal stems, on the other hand, surface with consonant clusters since there are no isolated counterparts which forces conformity to it. This is an instance of Base-Identity, which requires forms in derived contexts to be formally similar to the base. This is the generalization captured in the Base-Identity constraint of Kenstowicz (1.3), repeated below.
2.24 (=1.3) Base-Identity: Given an input structure [X Y] output candidates are evaluated for how well they match [X] and [Y] if the latter occur as independent words. (Kenstowicz, 1996: 372)
We can account for the noun-verb asymmetry in Korean using Base-Identity as a high-ranked constraint. By ranking Base-Identity above a faithfulness constraint which prohibits deletion of a segment in the input (MAX), nominal stems surface with a single consonant in concordance with the base.

con­strai­n­ts 

/kaps+i/ base: kap

candidates 








Base-Identity is vacuously satisfied in verbal stems. Since there is no base to which verbal stems should conform, verbal stems exhibit canonical phonology. Consonant clusters surface only if a vowel-initial suffix follows, elsewhere they are simplified. A phonological markedness constraint *CLUSTER penalizes every output candidate containing a tri-consonantal cluster.


con­strai­n­ts 

/ps+ss+/ base: ø candidates 








con­strai­n­ts 

/ps-t'a/ base: ø candidates 








The noun-verb asymmetry of hardening in Nivkh is strikingly similar to the case of Korean. As in Korean, verbal stems of Nivkh are not allowed to surface in isolation; they always require a morpho-syntactic extension (2.18). This is in contrast to nominal stems, which may surface in isolation (2.19). The difference is reflected directly in their phonological behavior; verbal stems undergo hardening, nominal stems do not. In the next section I will show how this analysis formally works.

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