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On the Boundaries of Phonology and Phonetics

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2.4.Base-Identity blocks hardening

I assume that the phonological markedness constraint that induces hardening to be the Obligatory Contour Principle (OCP) [fric].41 OCP [fric] prohibits adjacent fricatives. Base-Identity, as defined in the previous section, prefers output candidates which are similar to the base. With the ranking Base-Identity >> OCP [fric], we obtain the desired output; hardening does not apply to nominal stems.

con­strai­n­ts 

/tulv vo/ base: vo candidates 


OCP [fric]

IDENT [cont]

tulv vo


tulv bo



Base-Identity is satisfied vacuously in verbal stems since they lack a base. Being free from Base-Identity, an initial fricative now hardens to a plosive in order to circumvent an OCP violation.


con­strai­n­ts 

/cxf a-/ base: ø candidates 



IDENT [cont]

cxf a-


cxf [q]a-


Since Base-Identity refers to the base and not to the input, this ranking always derives the correct output no matter of the input value. This is illustrated in the tableau below in which the verbal stem initiates with a plosive in the input (cf. Shiraishi, 2000).


con­strai­n­ts 

/cxf qa-/ base: ø candidates 



IDENT [cont]

cxf qa-

cxf []a-



The present analysis correctly derives the observed output no matter of the input. There is thus no prespecification, in which input strings are fixed to take a particular form. Nor does it make use of information of category labels, a condition that was inevitable in previous descriptions in order to let hardening apply appropriately. The current analysis makes a totally different claim. There is no exception to the hardening rule (nominal stems), nor should the specific undergoer (verbal stems) be prespecified at the underlying level. Rather, the asymmetry of nominal and verbal stems follows from the existence of a base, which is an independent fact of the language. By making use of such morpho-lexical information, the current analysis accounts for the noun-verb asymmetry without appealing to language-specific stipulations.

3.Final Fricative Devoicing

Base-Identity plays a crucial role in another phonological phenomenon of Nivkh. In this section, I will discuss such a case.

3.1.Distribution of laryngeal features

Like Danish, a full contrast of laryngeal features of Nivkh obstruents is realized only at the stem-initial position, which is the most prominent position as in many other languages (cf. Beckman, 1996). In other positions, laryngeal features do not exercise a phonemic contrast and the feature value at the surface level is predictable from the context (Jakobson, 1957: 83). In principle, non-prominent (stem-medial and final) positions only allow non-aspirated plosives and voiced fricatives. Aspirated plosives and voiceless fricatives, on the other hand, are excluded from these positions. Following Jakobson (1957), I will call them the lenis and fortis series, respectively.

Lenis obstruents non-aspirated plosives : p t c k q

voiced fricatives : v r z  

Fortis obstruents aspirated plosives : p t c k q

voiceless fricatives : f r s x 










‘to drink’




‘to bake’





There are two exceptional contexts in which a voiceless fricative appears in a non-prominent position: i) when preceding a plosive, and/or ii) before an I[ntonational] P[hrase] boundary (Jakobson, 1957: 83).


a. esqa-d ‘to hate’

taft ‘salt’

kins ‘evil spirit’

kins ku-d ‘to kill an evil spirit’

cxf ‘bear’

cxf ku-d ‘to kill a bear’

als ‘berry’

als pe- ‘to pick berries’

b. nivx ‘human’

erx ‘to him/her’
The examples in 3.3b indicate that it is only the absolute final position that matters; the fricative second from the right appears as voiced. In Nivkh, there are no words ending in consecutive voiceless fricatives, indicating that voicelessness is required only for the very last fricative in an IP. I assume this to be due to a restriction which I will call Final Fricative Devoicing (FFD). FFD targets every final fricative within an IP.

Stem-final voiceless fricatives appear as voiced, however, as soon as the above-mentioned conditions are removed. Thus if a stem-final fricative is embedded in an IP, i.e. not final in the domain, and if it is not adjacent to a plosive it becomes voiced (3.4a). This is in concordance with the phonotactics of stem-medial fricatives which are always voiced (3.4b) unless adjacent to a plosive. This distribution is not surprising since stem-medial fricatives are expected not to coincide with an IP-boundary.


a. [kinz it-]I ‘go insane’

[cxv lj-]I 'to kill a bear'

[alz a-]I ‘to pick berry’

b. ezmu- ‘to like~’

urla ‘good’

pala ‘red’
Outside of these two contexts, only lenis obstruents appear in non-prominent positions. Apparently, lenis obstruents have more distributional freedom than fortis obstruents, indicating their unmarked status in the phonology of Nivkh. Since non-prominent positions are predictably occupied by lenis obstruents, I assume that obstruents in these positions are unspecified for laryngeal features in the underlying form. Unless context-sensitive requirements contravene, obstruents without laryngeal specifications surface as lenis, the unmarked obstruent of the language.

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