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On the Boundaries of Phonology and Phonetics

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3.2.Base-Identity in suffixation

Having discussed the unmarked nature of the lenis obstruents, we are now ready to look at the way FFD interacts with Base-Identity. Such a case arises when a suffix attaches to a fricative-final stem.

Like stem-medial and final positions, the initial obstruent of a suffix does not exhibit a laryngeal contrast, indicating that it is a non-prominent position. Except for a few exceptional cases, only lenis obstruents are allowed.42


-tox/rox/dox allative (case suffix)

-u/gu/ku plural

-t/d infinitive

-gu/ku causative
When affixed to a stem, the redundant [+voice] specification of the stem-final segment spreads to the initial obstruent of the suffix.

ra-d ‘to drink-INF’

pil-d ‘big-INF’

amam-d ‘to walk-INF’

ifk-t ‘to harness-INF’

jup-t ‘to bind-INF’

ro-gu-d ‘to help-CAU-INF’

lt-ku-d ‘to do-CAU-INF’

cam-gu ‘shaman-PL’

cam-dox ‘shaman-ALL’

There is an interesting discrepancy between fricative-final nominal and verbal stems in this context; following a verbal stem, the initial segment of a suffix is always voiced (3.7a), while following a nominal stem, it is always voiceless (3.7b).

  1. fuv-d ‘to blow/to saw-INF’

i-d ‘to kill-INF’

tv-d ‘to go inside the house-INF’

jar-d ‘to feed-INF’

roz-gu-d ‘to divide-CAU-INF’

tmz-gu-d ‘drop-CAU-INF’

  1. kins-ku ‘evil spirit-PL’

cxf-ku ‘bear-PL’

orr-ku ‘Uilta-PL’

tf-tox ‘house-ALL’

tir-tox ‘wood-ALL’

The reason of this discrepancy is not immediately clear. In particular, the final voiceless fricative of nominal stems is a mystery. Being affixed by a suffix, it is no longer in the context of FFD, so nothing prevents it from appearing in the unmarked voiced fricative. In fact, this is the case with verbal stems; final fricatives of verbal stems are systematically voiced (3.7a). The other context-sensitive requirement, namely, the precedence to a plosive cannot be the reason either since these suffixes have a voiced variant, which surfaces when following a (redundant) [+voice] segment (3.6, 3.7a). The derivatives of verbal stems in 3.7a show that the initial plosive of these suffixes can accommodate a (preceding) voiced fricative, unlike plosives in a stem. But in fact, this option is not adopted in nominal stems. In short, these context-sensitive requirements cannot explain the different behavior of final-fricatives in nominal and verbal stems.

Under Base-Identity, however, such a discrepancy is explicable. Recall that nominal and verbal stems have different morpho-lexical compositions. Nominal stems can surface without any morphological ending, making the last fricative target of FFD. In contrast, final fricative of a verbal stem is always followed by a morphological extension, making it irrelevant to FFD. Since Base-Identity claims that derivatives should phonologically conform to the base, nominal derivatives conform to their base, which ends in a voiceless fricative (due to FFD). This is not the case, however, for verbal stems since they have no base and therefore do not underlie such pressure. As a consequence, verbal stems undergo canonical phonology and fricatives in non-prominent positions do appear as lenis, the unmarked obstruents of the language.

Finally, it is important to note that reference to laryngeal specifications using Input-to-Output correspondence constraints is not a viable option in this context. Recall that there is no laryngeal contrast in stem-final position in Nivkh. A phonological theory which minimizes the specification of predictable features in underlying representations, which is the one adopted here, makes it impossible for Input-to-Output constraints to refer to the voiceless status of stem-final fricatives.43 Thus their voicelessness should come from somewhere else. According to the current analysis it originates from the base, the independently occurring isolated form.


In this paper I have discussed phonological asymmetries between nominal and verbal stems of Nivkh, as observed in two phonological phenomena CA and FFD. Though the asymmetries themselves look very different on the surface, this article has made explicit that they are subject to a common generalization, Base-Identity. Given the asymmetric composition of nouns and verbs, Base-Identity makes two predictions: i) nominal and verbal derivatives exhibit different phonological patterns, and ii) it is the nominal stem which exhibits the non-canonical phonology given the strong pressure from the base. Both predictions were borne out in the phonological phenomena discussed above. The base plays a decisive role in computing the phonology of nominal and verbal derivatives in both CA and FFD. As for CA, the current analysis correctly predicts that nominal derivatives accommodate the otherwise illicit segmental sequence (fricative-fricative, nasal-fricative), while verbal derivatives do not. This analysis is superior to previous accounts since it makes no direct use of the notion of exception, which was inevitable in previous works. Rather, the suggested analysis relates the asymmetry in phonology to the compositional asymmetry between nouns and verbs.

As for FFD, nominal derivatives showed conformity to their base, in ending in a voiceless fricative. Verbal stems on the other hand, do not show such conformity since they lack a base. Unlike nominal derivatives, the stem-final fricatives of verbal derivatives appear as lenis, following the canonical phonology of Nivkh. Base-Identity provides us with the mechanism underlying the noun-verb asymmetry, and it correctly predicts their phonological behavior with respect to the canonical phonology of the language.


I would like to thank Dicky Gilbers, Angela Grimm, Maartje Schreuder, Jeroen van de Weijer and the audiences of ULCL Phonology meeting at Leiden (27-05-2003) and TABU dag (20-06-2003, Groningen) for comments on parts of this article. I bear all responsibility for errors.

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