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The sound pattern of Japanese surnames


Compound surnames in Japanese show complex phonological patterns, which pose challenges to current theories of phonology. This dissertation proposes an account of the segmental and prosodic issues in Japanese surnames and discusses their theoretical implications.

Like regular compound words, compound surnames may undergo a sound alternation known as rendaku, whereby the initial consonant of the second element becomes voiced (e.g. /yama + ta/ → [yama-da] ‘mountain-paddy’). The voicing alternation in surnames is somewhat different from that in regular compounds, however; its application is often affected by the features of the last consonant of the first element. Surnames also show unique prosodic patterns, which include an inverse correlation between accentedness and rendaku application. Although the peculiarities of surnames have been noted in the literature (see Sugito 1965 among others), no study has ever provided a full description or explanation of the patterns. The first goal of the dissertation is to account for why compound surnames are different from regular compounds in terms of rendaku application and accentuation.

I claim that compound surnames are represented as single stems in the grammar due to their semantic non-compositionality and that their peculiar phonological patterns can be attributed to the application of stem-internal phonology. I present the results of a corpus study of existing surnames collected from social media, and a rendaku judgment experiment using nonce surnames. Both studies support the hypothesis that compound surnames follow the phonology of stems. The analysis opens a new way to investigate the sound patterns of proper nouns in general.

Rendaku in surnames poses another theoretical problem since it exhibits both lexical irregularities and phonologically-conditioned productivity. The experimental results show that Japanese speakers apply rendaku productively based on phonological factors. However, a closer look at the patterns of real surnames indicates that rendaku is also highly lexicalized; besides phonological factors, the presence of voicing in a given surname is determined by the idiosyncratic properties of that surname. The challenge of capturing the lexicalized and productive aspects of a phonological phenomenon with a single grammar has been recognized but not always addressed in the literature (see Zuraw 2000; Moore-Cantwell and Pater 2016).

To meet this challenge, I propose a Maximum Entropy Harmonic Grammar model (see Goldwater and Johnson 2003) with general phonological constraints and lexically-specific constraints along the lines of Moore-Cantwell and Pater (2016). I show that the proposed model with appropriate biases on the learning of constraint weights can not only capture the lexicalized rendaku patterns of existing surnames but also predict productive rendaku application in non-existing surnames. The analysis suggests that lexical factors should be incorporated into phonological grammar rather than simply specified in the lexicon.

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