LINGUIST List 3.611

Sat 08 Aug 1992

Disc: Dissimilation

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  1. , Dissimilation?

Message 1: Dissimilation?

Date: Tue, 28 Jul 1992 9:51:50 GDissimilation?
Subject: Dissimilation?

I missed the discussion of dissimilation recently on Linguist,
while I was at the Australian Linguistics Institute in Sydney.
In Sydney I presented the data from my 1988 paper on Nasal
Cluster Dissimilation (details were posted in the summary which I
missed, I believe). Later Nick Clements presented a possible
reanalysis in the light of suggestions in Donca Steriade's recent
unpublished paper "Closure, release and nasal contours", in his
Phonology course at ALI.

What occurs in Gurindji relates to the following type of
underlying string (omitting details):


where n is a nasal consonant and o an obstruent. Where the second
cluster is homorganic, the second n is deleted; where it is
heterorganic, the second n is denasalised. Such rules occur
sporadically in a number of Australian languages scattered
throughout the continent. In most of these the two clusters occur
only in adjacent syllables; in Gurindji however the rule is long
distance. One of the interesting aspects is characterising the
variable X: it seems both the sonority hierarchy and (for some
dialects) a hierarchy of place of articulation come into play.

This is not the aspect I'd like to raise here, however. What I'd
like to raise is whether this is truly a case of dissimilation.
Given the marginal nature of dissimilation in phonological theory
it would seem wise to reduce the number of cases that fall under
this rubric, and explain them if possible in other terms. One
idea that occurs to me that this could be a case of assimilation
(feature spreading). The feature in this case would be a minus
feature [-nasal], rather than the more common nasality spreading

It strikes me that this may offend against proposed or assumed
universals. I'd be grateful to receive any references to such
proposals about constraints; to similar analyses of
denasalisation; and to analyses involving spreading unmarked,
minus features generally.

Patrick McConvell
Northern Territory University
PO Box 40146
Casuarina NT 0811
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