From: Mathias Scharinger <mathias.scharingeruni-konstanz.de>
Subject: The Representation of Vocalic Features in Vowel Alternations: Phonological, morphological and computational aspects
Institution: University of Konstanz
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2006
Author: Mathias Scharinger
Dissertation Title: The Representation of Vocalic Features in Vowel Alternations: Phonological, morphological and computational aspects
Subject Language(s): English (eng)
German, Standard (deu)
A pertinacious issue within linguistics is the asymmetry of sound-meaning
and meaning-sound relations. One sequence of speech sounds may convey more
than one meaning, and vice versa, one meaning can be expressed by more than
one speech sound sequence.
This dissertation is concerned with a morphophonological asymmetry between
underlying representations and surface forms. A case here are
morphophonological vowel alternations, i.e. differing realisations of one
vocalic phoneme dependent on the morphosyntactic context in which the
corresponding word occurs. For instance, the vowel in the German noun Vater
(father) either surfaces as back (dorsal) vowel [a] or as front (coronal)
vowel [e], dependent of whether the noun is used in the singular or in the
A similar diachronic asymmetry, based on vowel height, can be found by
comparing New Zealand English (NZE) and American English (AE). The English
noun bat is realised with a mid vowel in NZE, while it has a low vowel in AE.
The following questions arise:
-How are vowel alternations and vowel shifts represented in the mental lexicon?
-How do speaker and listener deal with the asymmetries between underlying
and surface forms? In particular, how are alternating or shifted forms
perceived and produced?
This thesis provides theoretical and experimental evidence for a featurally
underspecified representation of vowels in morphophonological stem
alternations in German and for a particular vowel inventory in NZE which
emerged as a consequence of language change, describable as a restructuring
of contrastive features. The main tenets are that
-the lexical representations themselves determine whether grammatical vowel
alternations are possible and
-the lexical representations account for possible diachronic language changes.
The proposed model of speech perception and lexical access therefore covers
both phonological and morphological aspects of lexical organisation and
favours a single route access to all (i.e. complex and simplex) word forms.
This access is based on the matching or mismatching of features extracted
from a particular speech signal and features of word forms stored in the
The dissertation comprises five chapters. The first chapter describes the
grammatical vowel alternations in German and introduces the model which
tries to account for both the synchronic and the diachronic linguistic
data. The second chapter reviews the psycholinguistic literature on speech
comprehension. The third chapter includes a series of behavioural
experiments, seeking support for the model introduced in chapter 1 while
the fourth chapter adds neurolinguistic evidence for underspecified vowels
in particular German nouns. The fifth chapter concentrates on a vowel
change in another Germanic language, namely, in New Zealand English, and
provides experimental evidence for a restructured vowel inventory.
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