Chapter published in:Sonic Signatures: Studies dedicated to John Harris
Edited by Geoff Lindsey and Andrew Nevins
[Language Faculty and Beyond 14] 2017
► pp. 2–15
An acoustic explanation for a phonological pattern
When a consonant follows the English diphthong /au/, it must be coronal, e.g. loud, count (cf. *loub, *counk). This is a robust pattern but also an unnatural one, as there is no obvious synchronic link between /au/ and coronal place. A diachronic approach fares better, where historical changes obscured the original motivation for the pattern. The claim is that the rarity of /uː/+labial and /uː/+velar sequences in Old English resulted from a once-active constraint banning |U|-type consonants (labials, velars) after long /uː/ (also |U|). Later, /uː/ developed into /au/ while its coronal (i.e. non-labial/velar) context remained unchanged. Words such as room, soup are well-formed because their /uː/+labial sequences evolved after the constraint had become inactive.
Keywords: sound change, Old English, unnatural rules, dark (labial/velar) consonants, Element Theory, acoustic similarity, phonotactic constraints, loanwords
Published online: 30 November 2017
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