Colloquium: Morphological domains in sound change, with special attention to Judeo-Spanish

January 12, 3:30-5pm, Cobb 201
José Ignacio Hualde, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

It is widely recognized that much progress in historical linguistics has been made possible by the adoption of the Neogrammarian hypothesis of regularity of sound change and, in particular, the assumption that, at its inception, sound change can only be conditioned by phonetic factors. A well-known problem for the hypothesis is that, in many cases, phonological evolution is different inside words and in the same phonetic context but across word boundaries. Thus, for instance, Latin /ptk/ regularly become /bdg/ in Western Romance languages in intervocalic position (e.g. Lat. lupum > Sp. lobo ‘wolf’), but not across word boundaries (e.g. Lat. illa porta > Sp. la puerta ‘the door’, not **la buerta). Here I will first present data from acoustic studies of two languages where the same Western Romance sound change is found as an incipient, variable phonetic process, Rome Italian and Iberian Spanish (where we appear to be witnessing a ‘second round’ of intervocalic voicing). The results show that, at this stage, voicing of plosives is as likely to happen across word boundaries as inside words. This supports the view that the restriction to word-internal contexts that we find in the Western Romance sound change must be a secondary, analogically-based, development (Weinrich 1958).

The second part of the talk will be concerned with Judeo-Spanish. In this language, the Old Spanish voiced plosives have become fricatives when intervocalic (e.g. Osp lobo > JSp lovo ‘wolf’) , but remain unchanged not only word-initially, but even when a morphological boundary intervenes (e.g. a-bashar ‘to lower’, not **avashar). To my knowledge, the relevance of these facts has not been previously appreciated.

I will argue that, in this case as well, at an earlier stage an allophonic spirantization rule applied across-the-board, just like we find in modern Mainstream Spanish. Contact with other languages raised awareness of differences between allophones, causing phonemic split and analogical restructuring. My conclusion is thus that these facts are in fact also compatible with the strong version of the Neogrammarian hypothesis: Regular sound change has its origin on articulatory habits and thus can only be conditioned by phonetic context. For this reason, at the inception of a sound change, morpheme and word boundaries are disregarded.