The role of the listener in the historical phonology of spanish and portuguese: an optimality-theoretic account

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A Dissertation

submitted to the Faculty of the

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

of Georgetown University

in partial fulfillment of the requirements for

the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

in Spanish Linguistics


David Eric Holt, M.S.

Washington, D.C.

July 10, 1997

© 1997 by David Eric Holt

All rights reserved


David Eric Holt, M.S.

Mentor: Alfonso Morales-Front, Ph.D.

[Readers: Thomas J. Walsh and Elizabeth Zsiga]

In this dissertation I study the application to historical sound change of a constraint-based approach to phonology. I employ Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky 1993, McCarthy and Prince 1993a,b) in the analysis of the principal changes in syllable structure that developed from Latin to Spanish and Portuguese. I argue that historical sound change is driven by the incorporation of phonetic factors into phonology for reasons of lexicon and grammar optimization, and show that the role of perception and reinterpretation by the listener is crucial in achieving this optimization. Additionally, reanalysis of underlying forms may have profound effects on the constraint hierarchy of the grammar, leading to the step-wise rise of markedness constraints versus faithfulness constraints.

Furthermore, several steps in the historical development of certain phenomena of syllable structure and phonological/phonetic forms are best understood as resulting from effects of perception and (re )interpretation by the hearer.

Chapter 1 discusses the need for theoretical approaches to historical change in additional to traditional ones, introduces theoretical machinery (Optimality Theory, lexicon optimization, moraic theory and its relation to sonority) and reviews previous OT approaches to variation and change.

In Chapter 2 I show that reanalysis by the listener of phonetic differences leads to loss of vowel length distinctions in Late Latin, initiating massive changes in the distribution of long segments: a constraint disfavoring moraic consonants begins to rise, first reducing obstruent geminates and vocalizing syllable-final velars.

Chapter 3 continues to explore results of the loss of phonological vowel length. I first treat the evolution of the seven-vowel system of Late Spoken Latin, and argue that reanalysis of the Latin Stress Rule led to vowel lengthening. Later developments lead to diphthongization of stressed open mid vowels in Old Spanish. I then show that geminate consonants are progressively simplified, with the sonorants now being affected. Reduction leads to /n, l/ in Galician/Portuguese, but palatal /, / in Old Spanish, where merger with Latin /n, l/ would have resulted.

Chapter 4 shows that the listener may (mis)interpret one sound for a less marked one based on great acoustic similarity. In the development of Latin Cl clusters to Spanish, Galician and Portuguese -ch-, I argue that voicing assimilation yielded a cluster that was interpreted as [t]. The Uniformity Condition is also reconsidered.

Chapter 5 summarizes the results of this study and offers several conclusions about historical sound change in Optimality Theory.

I’d like to thank the many people who have helped me get to this point and stay sane. These include former and current professors, friends, family and others.

From my undergraduate studies at Occidental College, I thank Betchen Barber, my first linguistics teacher, for communicating her passion for historical and general linguistics to me, and for sharing her contagious excitement for the field in general; Amy Williamsen, Robert Ellis and Alfredo Morales-Nieves for being excellent advisors and teachers of Spanish language, literature and culture; indeed, Alfredo encouraged me to apply to Georgetown, and has been a source of constant support throughout the past several years. Martha Bean, a family friend who used to babysit me, also encouraged me to attend Georgetown, and as a linguist may have planted the seed long ago for my current career. I am also grateful to my high school Spanish teacher, Cheryl Otte, for starting me down the road I’m on, and for cheering me along ever since.

From my time at Georgetown, I thank my professors of linguistics Héctor Campos, Ron Leow, Fernando Martínez-Gil, Alfonso Morales-Front and Tom Walsh; I am particularly indebted to Héctor for inspiring me in many ways, both linguistic and personal, and for being a great friend. I also thank Karen Breiner-Sanders, Michael Gerli and Cristina Sanz for encouragement and advice at several points; Professors Gary Vessels and Clea Rameh for teaching me Portuguese, and to them and Maria João Basílio for serving as informants at various stages of my studies. I am also grateful to Kathy Julien of Interlibrary Loan, without whose diligent work my progress undoubtedly would have been slower.

I particularly thank my fellow students Norma González-Catalán, Tracey Meltzer and Regina Morin—we’ve come a long way together; for additional moral support and general camaraderie I also thank Jinny Choi, Melissa Simmermeyer, Christine Glover, Carmen Nieto and José del Valle; thanks to the students in my Spanish classes for being supportive and for providing me with an outlet and break from my dissertation. To my friends outside of the university, particularly Tracey, Jen and Betsy, a heartfelt thank-you for helping me keep things in their proper perspective. For the same reasons, my three year-old cousin Nicholas has been a great joy.

Academically, I am grateful to the members of my dissertation committee, Alfonso Morales-Front, Tom Walsh and Lisa Zsiga for their helpful comments, criticisms and suggestions; they have all been instrumental in the development of my linguistic formation. I am also indebted to Lisa for suggesting and leading me through spectrographic analysis to support some of my intuitions.

I have received feedback from many people (apart from the members of my committee) at various stages of the writing of this dissertation; several in particular that I’d like to thank are Héctor Campos, Fernando Martínez-Gil, Regina Morin, Jinny Choi, José del Valle, Linda Lombardi, Jaye Padgett, Joe Pater, Laura Walsh Dickey, Ric Morris, Ken Wireback, and Randall Gess, in addition to attendees of several conferences. Needless to say, they are not responsible for the views presented here.

Lastly, my family has been a great source of encouragement and support: my parents David and Carolyn, my brother Kevin, my grandmother Smith, my aunt Nancy and uncle Nathan and their son Nicholas, I thank you all deeply.

To my family for your confidence in me

as well as your constant support and encouragement


Definitions of Language Terms xiii
Introduction 1
Chapter 1: Theoretical considerations 6
1.0 Introduction 6

1.1 Historical change 6

1.2 Historical change in generative phonology 7

1.3 Theoretical assumptions 10

1.3.1 Optimality Theory 11

1.3.2 Lexicalization and lexicon optimization in

Optimality Theory and previous models 18

1.3.3 Moraic theory 25

1.4 Previous OT approaches to variation and historical change 28

1.4.1 OT approaches to variation 28 Zubritskaya (1994) 28 Anttila (1995) 30

1.4.2 OT approaches to historical sound change 32 Jacobs (1994, 1995) 32 Hutton (1996) 33 Gess (1996) 37 Summary 37

1.5 Directions for the present study 38

Notes to Chapter 1 39

Chapter 2: The evolution of Latin vowel length and geminate obstruents 41

2.0 Introduction 41

2.1 Distinctive vowel length in Latin 42

2.1.1 Vowel quantity in Latin 45

2.1.2 The role of phonetics and the listener in eliminating

vowel length 49

2.2 Consequences of the loss of contrastively long vowels 53

2.3 The sonority hierarchy and *Long 55

2.4 The rise of *C in the loss of the moraic status of obstruents 61

2.5 Summary and conclusions 70

Notes to Chapter 2 72

Chapter 3: The evolution of Late Spoken Latin /, / and geminate sonorants 77
3.0 Introduction 77

3.1 The phenomena to be analyzed in the history of Hispano-Romance 77

3.2 Reanalysis of the Latin Stress Rule: Consequences for

Hispano-Romance 80

3.2.1 The effects of Stress-to-Weight in Hispano-Romance 81 Vowel lengthening in Hispano-Romance 81 Diphthongization of /, / in Old Spanish 84

3.3 Evolution of Latin geminate sonorants /nn, ll/ in Hispano-Romance 91

3.3.1 Simplification of /nn, ll/ in Galician/Portuguese 94

3.3.2 Palatalization of /nn, ll/ in Old Spanish 94

3.4 Summary constraints, rankings and classes of moraic segments in

Hispano-Romance 100

3.5 General summary and conclusions 103

Notes to Chapter 3 106

Appendix to Chapter 3: Coarticulated nasal and lateral codas in

Andalusian and Caribbean Spanish 110

Chapter 4: Comprehension, reinterpretation and the Uniformity Condition 115
4.0 Introduction 115

4.0.1 Data 116

4.0.2 Previous accounts 118

4.0.3 Principal issues of this chapter 122

4.1 A unified approach 124

4.1.0 Outline of the present analysis 124

4.1.1 Analysis of Sp. ll, Gal./Ptg. lh 125

4.1.2 Analysis of Sp., Gal./Ptg. -ch- 134

4.1.3 Analysis of Gal./Ptg. ch- 142

4.1.4 Analysis of remaining data from medial position 145

4.2 The listener as a source of sound change 150

4.3 Summary and conclusions 152

Notes to Chapter 4 155

First Appendix to Chapter 4: On the phonetic plausibility of Cl > t 162

Notes to first Appendix to Chapter 4 178

Second Appendix: Other cases of the ‘Uniformity Condition’ 179

Notes to second Appendix to Chapter 4 192
Chapter 5: Summary and conclusions 193
References 197


I define here several language terms I will use in the dissertation.

When I refer to ‘Latin’, in most instances I will mean the Latin spoken in the late Roman Empire and after its fall to the Visigoths and other Germanic tribes in the fifth century A.D.; other senses of the term ‘Latin’ will be explicitly noted (e.g., Classical Latin).

This Late Spoken Latin was not, however, a fully unified language, and it developed differently in the various regions of the Roman world. The spoken Latin that developed in Hispania, particularly between the fall of the Empire and the invasion of the Moors in 711, is here called Late Hispanic Latin. This variety subsequently gave rise to the various Ibero-Romance dialects. The term ‘Late Hispanic Latin’ is used to indicate the stage in the development of spoken Latin when what are now Galician, Portuguese, Leonese, Castilian (‘Spanish’), Aragonese and Catalan formed a more or less unitary language. ‘Hispano-Romance’ will normally be used to designate the stage when Galician, Portuguese and Spanish were fairly unified, though where noted it will designate phenomena that are common to more than one modern dialect. ‘Pre-Old Spanish’ or ‘pre-Galician/Portuguese’ will refer more specifically to the varieties of Hispano-Romance that immediately preceded the attested stages that followed, i.e., Old Spanish and Galician/Portuguese.

Lastly, throughout the dissertation I will employ the term ‘Galician/Portuguese’ to indicate the stage before Portuguese became distinct from Galician. After Afonso Henriques obtained the title of king from Alfonso VII of Castile and León in 1143, Portuguese evolved independently from Galician and Spanish. Documents that may strictly be called ‘Old Portuguese’ begin to appear at the end of the twelfth century (an 1192 division of inheritance). Documents in Old Spanish appear earlier (Glosas emilianenses, c. 950; Glosas silenses, second half of 10th c.). More recognizable Spanish texts appear in the twelfth century, such as the Auto de los reyes magos (toward the end of the twelfth century) and the Cantar de mio Cid (late 12th-early 13th c.). See Sampson 1980.

In this dissertation I will study the application to historical sound change of a constraint-based approach to phonology. I employ Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky 1993, McCarthy and Prince 1993a,b) in the analysis of the principal changes in syllable structure that developed from Latin to Spanish and Portuguese. I argue that historical sound change is driven by the incorporation of phonetic factors into phonology for reasons of lexicon and grammar optimization. I will show that the role of perception and reinterpretation by the listener is crucial in historical change as a means to achieve this optimization. We will see that reanalysis of underlying forms may have profound effects on the organization of the constraint hierarchy of the grammar, leading to the step-wise rise of markedness constraints versus faithfulness constraints.

To date there has been little research into historical Hispano-Romance phonology using this model, and this dissertation aims to help fill that gap. While offering an analysis of several classic historical phenomena, it also makes a contribution to the development of phonological theory and the emerging Optimality Theory (‘OT’), while advancing a novel model of language change.

Within a constraint-based approach, and one that intends to be universal, how is language change to be characterized? This is new ground, and only recently have researchers begun to apply OT to sound change (Jacobs 1994, 1995; Hutton 1996; Gess 1996; Green 1997—these are reviewed in Chapter 1). Jacobs and Gess investigate Old French, but lacking still at this point are in-depth treatments of the phonological history of both Spanish and Portuguese. Because this would in fact constitute an entire research program, in this dissertation I will limit myself to an exploration of the role of lexicon optimization in sound change and its effects on syllable structure.

I show that several characteristics that distinguish Spanish from Portuguese can be attributed to the divergent ranking of a limited number of constraints. We will see that the history of these languages is composed of a series of stages, each of which exhibits a specific constraint hierarchy. This must be understood in diachronic terms, not in serially derivational ones, which would be antithetical to the tenets of OT, which in its strongest form allows for only a single step from base to surface. That is, I propose a series of stages in the OT grammar, but these are to be understood as historical stages, not intermediate stages of a single synchronic grammar.

To support these assertions, I present and motivate a series of phonological structure conditions (constraints) whose interaction and relative importance account for the historical changes addressed here. I show that slight reranking of these constraints, that is, variation in the relative importance of the constraints from one language to another and from one time period to another, elegantly and simply captures cross-linguistic variation in the syllable structure and phonological/phonetic forms of these languages.

Likewise, several steps in the historical development of certain phenomena are best understood as resulting from effects of perception and (re ) interpretation by the hearer. Furthermore, several phonological processes and historical changes can be seen here as interrelated for the first time, a result of assuming the constraint-based approach employed in this dissertation.

Chapter 1 presents a discussion of the need for theoretical approaches to historical change in addition to traditional ones. Once the theoretical assumptions adopted here are introduced (Optimality Theory, lexicalization and lexicon optimization, and moraic theory and its relation to sonority), there is a discussion of previous OT approaches to variation and change and their relevance to the present study. Chapter 1 concludes with a brief discussion of the direction the present work will take.

Chapter 2 begins the analysis of the Hispano-Romance data. I show that reanalysis by the listener of previously phonetic differences leads to loss of vowel length distinctions in Late Latin. This will be argued to initiate far reaching changes that lead to the eventual recovery of systemic balance in the distribution of long segments. The step-wise climb of a constraint *C (‘no moraic consonants’) leads to the reduction of geminate voiceless obstruents and the vocalization of the first segment in the clusters /kt, ks, lt, gn/. Also crucial here is the reanalysis of the Latin Stress Rule.

Chapter 3 continues to treat the effects of reanalysis by the listener of loss of distinctive vowel length. One major result is that the Latin Stress Rule is reanalyzed as a constraint requiring that stressed syllables be bimoraic; subsequent developments in pre-Old Spanish led to diphthongization of open mid vowels /, /. The other principal effect of loss of Latin vowel length is the step-wise rise of *C, as seen in Chapter 2; here it continues to rise, resulting in simplification of the next-most sonorous elements, the geminate sonorants /nn, ll/. Previous loss of /-n-, -l-/ in Galician/Portuguese allowed for simplification of /nn, ll/ to /n, l/; in Old Spanish, however, the retention of Latin /-n-, -l-/ led to simplification-cum-palatalization, yielding /, /. An appendix to this chapter explores coarticulation of nasal and lateral codas in Andalusian and Caribbean Spanish.

Chapter 4 gives additional support for the proposition that the listener is key in effecting sound change. In this chapter, I offer an innovative account of another characteristic that sharply differentiates Spanish from Galician/ Portuguese, the development of clusters of voiceless consonant plus /l/. In addition to further cases of the lexicon optimization of added features to avoid violations of Dep, we will see that the listener may play another role as well. Here it is the acoustic similarity of marked [c] that leads to reinterpretation by the listener as [t]. I offer an OT reconsideration of the Uniformity Condition and suggest that it is important in leading to the reanalysis of certain Cl clusters as /t/. Two appendices to Chapter 4 treat further several theoretical issues raised in the course of this dissertation: the first discusses the phonetic plausibility of the change [Cl] > [t]. The second adduces additional phenomena in Hispano-Romance that may be best accounted for by appealing to constraint conjunction as an alternative to the Uniformity Condition.

Chapter 5 briefly summarizes the principal results of this study that show that the role of the listener is crucial in effecting sound change. This chapter also gives several conclusions regarding historical sound change in Optimality Theory, including that consideration of phonetic factors and lexicon and grammar optimization are important in understanding historical change.


1.0 Introduction. I first present a discussion of the need for application of advances in theoretical phonology to historical change, in addition to traditional approaches (§1.1). Next, I discuss the conception of historical change in generative phonology (§1.2), and I follow this with a presentation of the theoretical framework and notions necessary to proceed with the analysis offered in this study (Optimality Theory, lexicon optimization, moraic theory; §1.3). I then review previous OT approaches to variation and change (§1.4). This chapter concludes with some comments about the aims of the present work (§1.5).
1.1 Historical change. How historical change should be characterized remains controversial. There are many open questions, in any framework, such as ‘Why do languages change?’, ‘How may these changes best be formulated or modeled?’, ‘Why are some changes absolute, while others seem to affect only a subset of the potential targets?’, and many others that are still open questions within any framework. Earlier investigation into Romance linguistics by such researchers as Diez (1874), Meyer-Lübke (1895) and Menéndez Pidal (1904), and more recently Lapesa (1986), Lloyd (1987), Malkiel (1963-4) and Penny (1991) was largely descriptive, and the data these authors collected, the observations they made, and the laws they formulated are still the fundamental foundations upon which current investigation must build. Malkiel (1963-4:144) acknowledges this, while at the same time recognizing that another step must be taken to reach another level of adequacy:
Romance scholarship, throughout the first decades of this century, has concentrated almost exclusivelyto the extent that its spokesmen bothered to attack problems of phonologyon minute geographical delimitations and on the painstaking accumulation of shreds of historical evidence, neglectingwith rare exceptionsthe equally urgent task of concomitant theoretical refinement. The collection of raw data must, of course, continue at undiminished pace, but the discussion of theoretical fundamentals underlying any profitable attempt at elucidating these facts can no longer be with impunity postponed.
1.2 Historical change in generative phonology. The advent of generative phonology coincides chronologically with the thinking propounded by Malkiel. Historical change in this period is now characterized differently; Hartman (1974:123) summarizes this shift in perspective well:
Kiparsky (1965) and King (1969)with the impetus of Halle (1962)have given us a theory of language change that differs from earlier theories in that it implies that language history is two-dimensional: that is, a historical grammar is not simply a list of sound-change laws in chronological order, but a diachronic series of synchronic grammars. Each synchronic grammar consists of a list of ordered rules, and historical changes include not only rule addition, but also rule loss, rule reordering, rule simplification, and restructuring of underlying forms. It is these additional types of changeprincipally rule reordering and simplificationthat make phonological history different from synchronic phonology and thus interesting in its own right.
Harris (1969) and Hartman (1974) initiate this undertaking with specific regard to Spanish (and only peripherally for Portuguese). These authors elaborate a series of rules for the changes that differentiate Spanish from Latin. Later advances in generative phonology also had an impact on the treatment of historical change, such as Martínez-Gil’s accounts (1990, 1994) of a number of changes from Latin into Spanish (including the development of syllable and metrical structure, intrusive stop formation, velar vocalization, and lenition), applying different aspects of nonlinear phonology (autosegmental theory, metrical theory, underspecification, etc.). Each of these authors has made important contributions to the advancement of our understanding of both diachronic linguistics in general and of Spanish in particular. Unfortunately, there has been little research within the generative approach dedicated to the comparable study of Portuguese, and what there is has been synchronic, not diachronic (cf. Pardal 1977, López 1979, Girelli 1988, Wetzels 1991).

In recent years, growing dissatisfaction with the rule-based approach to generative grammar has come to a head. Ever since the inception of generative grammar there has been the need to posit constraints, filters or conditions alongside rules; the interplay among these has been problematic and has undergone much scrutiny. Another criticism has been that we ought to have observable evidence that the grammar is indeed a series of rules. In fact, we only have evidence for the output (what we actually orally produce), and only indirect or theory-internal evidence for the input (underlying representations) such as morphological alternations.

These and other criticisms have led to the development of alternative frameworks in which constraints play the principal or only role, to wit: the Theory of Constraints and Repair Strategies (‘TCRS’, Paradis 1988, 1993); Harmonic Phonology (Goldsmith 1994); and Optimality Theory (‘OT’, Prince and Smolensky 1993). Of these, OT has gained the most followers in part because this purely constraint-based approach makes strong claims about the nature of constraints and the interrelation of languages via constraint ranking.

At this point it is necessary to present an excursus on the nature of OT for those accustomed to traditional or nontheoretical frameworks. (The reader familiar with OT may skip to (5) below, where I present specific constraints upon which my analysis will rely.) After outlining the principal theoretical assumptions I adopt in this study, I shall return to the discussion of historical change.

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