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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Prefix independence: typology and theory

  • Author(s): Elkins, Noah
  • Advisor(s): Hayes, Bruce
  • Zuraw, Kie
  • et al.

The prefix-suffix asymmetry is an imbalance in the application of phonological processes whereby prefixes are less phonologically cohering to their roots than suffixes. This thesis presents a large- scale typological survey of processes which are sensitive to this asymmetry. Results suggest that prefixes’ relative phonological aloofness (independence) constitutes a widespread and robust generalization, perhaps more so than previously realized.

In terms of analysis, I argue that the key concept is the special prominence of initial syllables, supported by much evidence from phonetics, psycholinguistics, and phonology itself. My formal treatment consists of constraint families that serve to support such prominence. I propose that a highly-ranked CRISPEDGE constraint (It� & Mester 1999) relativized to the left edge of root-initial syllables can account for much of the typological data. This proposal rests on the fact that root-initial syllables constitute a privileged position in phonological grammars (e.g. Beckman 1998, Becker et al. 2012), and so to maximize the efficacy of the root-initial percept, segments are hesitant to share their features leftward to target prefixes – and vice versa – as this would blur the strong root-initial boundary.

The remaining set of phenomena that implement root-initial prominence are prosodic. For these, I argue that prosodic words, which are the domain for such processes, are preferentially aligned to the left edges of roots, as opposed to entire morphological words. This has a similar effect, namely preserving the environments in which root-initial segments are articulated most robustly. A preferential ranking of ALIGN-L(Root, PrWd) ≫ ALIGN-R(Root, PrWd) is proposed, instantiating a cross-linguistic bias.

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