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Palatalization and “strong i” across Inuit dialects

  • Richard Compton (a1) and B. Elan Dresher (a1)


Inuit dialects with palatalization all distinguish between “strong i” and “weak i”: instances of surface [i] that cause palatalization and those that do not, respectively. All dialects that have completely lost this contrast also lack palatalization. Why are there no /i, a, u/ dialects in which all instances of surface [i] trigger palatalization? We propose that this typological gap can be explained using a contrastivist analysis whereby only contrastive features can be phonologically active, palatalization is triggered by [coronal], and contrastive features are assigned in an order placing [low] and [labial] ahead of [coronal]. In a three-vowel inventory only [low] and [labial] are contrastive, while in the four-vowel inventory [coronal] must also be contrastive to distinguish strong and weak i. It follows from these assumptions that [i] can trigger palatalization only if it is in contrast with a fourth vowel.


Les dialectes inuits avec palatalisation distinguent tous entre les «i forts» et les «i faibles» : les [i] de surface qui provoquent la palatalisation et ceux qui ne la provoquent pas, respectivement. Dans tous les dialectes où ce contraste est complètement perdu, la palatalisation est absente. Pourquoi n’existe-t-il pas de dialectes /i, a, u/ dans lesquels tous les [i] de surface déclenchent la palatalisation? Nous proposons que cet écart typologique peut être expliqué en utilisant une approche contrastiviste selon laquelle seuls les traits contrastifs peuvent être actifs dans la phonologie, la palatalisation est déclenchée par [coronal] et les traits contrastifs sont ordonnés de telle façon que les traits [bas] et [labial] sont assignés avant [coronal]. Dans un inventaire de trois voyelles, seuls les traits [bas] et [labial] sont contrastifs, tandis que dans un inventaire de quatre voyelles, [coronal] doit aussi être contrastif pour distinguer les i forts des i faibles. Il résulte de ces hypothèses que [i] ne peut déclencher la palatalisation que s’il est en contraste avec une quatrième voyelle.



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