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Academic Paper

Title: Acquiring Phonology is Not Acquiring Inventories But Contrasts: The loss of Turkic and Korean primary long vowels
Author: Barış Kabak
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Institution: Universität Konstanz
Linguistic Field: Phonetics; Phonology; Sociolinguistics
Subject Language: Korean
Abstract: Why do languages prefer to maintain certain features and get rid of others? This paper evaluates Trudgill's (2003) correlation of phoneme inventory size with social factors in the context of Turkic and Korean vowel inventories from both historical and synchronic perspectives. One of the aims of the paper is to improve the rigor in Trudgill's use of terms such as "phoneme" and his approach to the acquisition of phoneme inventories. Accordingly, the paper highlights the role of phonological structure in the acquisition of phonological contrast. Examining the socio-cultural and historical background of Turkic languages, it is shown that Trudgill's speculations based on social dominance, isolation, and community size provide no reasonable explanation for the loss of primary long vowels in most Turkic languages and their preservation in a few others. Trudgill's arguments cannot also be upheld with respect to Korean, where long and short vowels currently undergo neutralization. The paper suggests that such changes in phoneme inventories can be better understood if the loss of phonemes is viewed as a result of phonetic and phonological processes that act upon the contrastive feature and phonological context that defines the phonemes in question. The obstruction of sufficient phonological evidence for the contrast by such forces then hampers its maintenance by following generations. Possible explanations for the loss of primary long vowels are posited in light of specific processes that refer to vowel length in Turkic and Korean. It is suggested that these processes have obscured the contrastive status of vowel length in the organization of phonological knowledge by the speakers of these languages.
Type: Individual Paper
Status: Completed
Venue: Linguistic Typology 8: 351-368

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