The Phonological Influence on Phonetic Change

Josef Fruehwald (2014)


There is a conventional wisdom regarding phonetic changes that their grounding and motivating forces are similarly phonetic, e.g. the gradual accumulation of perceptual and articulatory errors, which I will argue is at best incomplete. In investigating language changes in progress as observed in the Philadelphia Neighborhood Corpus (Labov, Rosenfelder & Fruehwald 2013), I found that most of them (in fact, all of the ones I investigated) exhibited properties best attributable to a categorical, phonological influence. These include:

  • categorical selection of some contexts to undergo change at the onset, which are best described phonologically, not phonetically,
  • the categorical exclusion of some contexts from undergoing a change, despite appearing to favor it,
  • the failure strong phonetic effects to phonologize,
  • natural class behavior, not easily attributable to phonetic interactions (i.e. parallel shifts).
In my talk, I describe these results and try to make the case for more phonological analyses of phonetic changes.

Presented at University of York

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