This book "asserts that the origin and spread of languages must be examined primarily through the time-tested techniques of linguistic analysis, rather than those of evolutionary biology" and "defends traditional practices in historical linguistics while remaining open to new techniques, including computational methods" and "will appeal to readers interested in world history and world geography."
Date: Mon, 19 Apr 2004 13:23:29 -0700 From: Eric Bakovic Subject: Vowel Harmony and Correspondence Theory
AUTHOR: Krämer, Martin TITLE: Vowel Harmony and Correspondence Theory SERIES: Studies in Generative Grammar 66 PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter YEAR: 2003
Eric Bakovic, University of California, San Diego
The topic of this book is the analysis of various aspects of vowel harmony within Optimality Theory (OT; Prince & Smolensky 1993/2002), with particular attention to the Correspondence Theory of faithfulness (McCarthy & Prince 1995, 1999). The empirical and analytical issues addressed in the book are all ones that have received substantial attention in the vowel harmony literature regardless of theoretical orientation, but the author's overall approach differs in many interesting ways from previous work.
The book is divided into two parts. Part I, "The phenomenon and the theoretical background", contains three chapters. Chapter 1 introduces various aspects of vowel harmony, highlighting those that are the focus of the book (see the summary of Part II below). Chapter 2 introduces OT and the particular types of constraints to be crucially employed in the remainder of the book: positional faithfulness, syntagmatic identity, and (three types of) "coordinated" constraints. Chapter 3 is a preview of how specific examples of some of the empirical phenomena introduced in Chapter 1 will be analyzed in Part II of the book with the constraint types introduced in Chapter 2.
Part II, "Case Studies", also contains three chapters plus a general concluding chapter. Each of the substantive chapters addresses a coherent cluster of empirical phenomena, with detailed analyses of examples from a variety of languages. Chapter 4 addresses directionality and its (hypothesized) morphological underpinnings. Chapter 5 addresses vowel transparency. Chapter 6 addresses the problem of vowels that are specified for a harmonic feature value that is the opposite of the value that they impose on other vowels. (The author dubs these vowels 'Trojan' vowels, a useful moniker that I will adopt in this review.) Parasitic harmony -- a situation in which harmonizing vowels must already share some feature -- is also discussed in Chapter 6, as a part of the extensive analysis of the well-known complex interaction of vowel harmony and other processes in Yawelmani Yokuts.
The final, concluding chapter summarizes the main points of the book and comments on four major theoretical themes: serialism, underspecification, factorial typology, and functional motivation. In addition to endnotes, a bibliography and an index, there is a useful appendix of proposed constraints and their definitions as well as an appendix of languages analyzed in the book (with details regarding properties relevant to vowel harmony).
Apart from a few relatively minor changes, additions and omissions, this book is essentially identical to the author's 2001 doctoral dissertation of the same title.
There are four main empirical phenomena that the author chooses to focus on in this book, and which I will also largely restrict my attention to in this review:
1. Directionality. Vowel harmony originates in a particular vowel (e.g., a vowel in the root) and proceeds outward from there. 2. Transparent vowels. Vowel harmony may ignore certain vowels, skipping over them and affecting vowels on the other side. 3. Trojan vowels. Certain vowels may condition harmony for the opposite value of the harmonic feature with which they surface. 4. Parasitic harmony. Neighboring vowels may harmonize only if they already agree in terms of another, attendant feature.
According to the abstract (pp. ix-x), the book's "central goal is to give a unified account" of these four aspects of vowel harmony (and some others) within OT. This goal is explicitly contrasted with previous work on vowel harmony in OT, in which the author claims that "a rich inventory of theoretical devices has been applied and developed to explain various aspects of vowel harmony". Briefly, the analyses proposed for the four phenomena above are:
1. Root-to-affix directionality is due to a distinction between root and affix faithfulness constraints (Beckman 1998), with pairs of such constraints ranked in such a way that root feature values are preserved and extended at the expense of affix feature values. Dominant-recessive harmony is due to local conjunction (LC, violated only when both conjuncts are violated; Smolensky 1993, 1995) of markedness and faithfulness constraints, as proposed by Bakovic (2000). Other instances of directionality (morpheme-internal, affix-to-root) are accounted for with other types of positional faithfulness constraints, some of which are understood as logical constraint conjunction (violated when either conjunct is violated; Crowhurst & Hewitt 1997). (The author attempts to demonstrate on pp. 85-86 that other positional faithfulness constraints might be understood as cases of a third type of constraint coordination; the example discussed, however, is unrelated to vowel harmony and the matter is not discussed anywhere else in the book.)
2. Vowel transparency is due to an LC of two constraints: one demanding that a vowel agree with neighboring vowels in terms of the harmonic feature, and another demanding that a vowel disagree with neighboring vowels in terms of the harmonic feature. The effect is supposed to be that a vowel unable to agree with the harmony trigger (for markedness reasons) will prefer to disagree with both neighbors (the hallmark of transparency) than to initiate its own harmonic domain (the hallmark of vowel opacity).
3. Trojan vowels are the result of an LC of two constraints: one demanding output faithfulness to the input harmonic feature value, and another demanding that a vowel disagree with neighboring vowels in terms of the harmonic feature. The effect is supposed to be that a vowel in a harmony- triggering position that is unable to surface with its underlying harmonic feature value (for markedness reasons) will prefer to disagree with its neighbors, the apparent result being that the vowel triggers harmony with its underlying rather than surface harmonic feature value.
4. Parasitic harmony is the result of an LC of two constraints: one demanding that a vowel agree with neighboring vowels in terms of the harmonic feature and another demanding that a vowel disagree with neighboring vowels in terms of the attendant feature on which harmony is parasitic. The effect is supposed to be that a vowel can *either* disagree with its neighbors in terms of the harmonic feature *or* agree with them in terms of the attendant feature, but not both.
The unification that the author claims to have achieved in this book appears to be the central role of constraint coordination in each of these cases, primarily in the form of LC. Close inspection of the analyses proposed in the book reveals several serious complications, particularly with the interaction of LCs. I address some of these complications in what follows, arranged in order according to each of the four main empirical phenomena already mentioned. None of these complications is addressed in much depth here, due to space limitations and the formal complexity of the issues.
I should add that as a person who also wrote a dissertation on vowel harmony in OT and who also wrestled with the extremely complex (but deceptively simple) ways in which LCs interact in an OT grammar, I am simultaneously impressed with the book's analytical coverage and sympathetic with the author's not having confronted many of these complications.
Directionality is arguably the central concern of work on vowel harmony and related phonological processes. (I will refrain from citing any of the many relevant works here.) One of the most difficult obstacles to a restrictive theory of directionality is the ubiquitous tension with observed facts. In the case of vowel harmony, any attempt to restrict directionality in a principled way can be countered with a pattern that cannot be adequately described.
One recent proposal for restricting directionality in vowel harmony is my own cyclic account (Bakovic 2000, 2003). This account downplays the significance of morpheme-internal directionality and denies the existence of (strictly) affix-to-root directionality. This proposal is directly countered in the current book with the case of Futankoore Pulaar (Fula; Paradis 1992), in which harmony appears to be best described as proceeding leftward from the rightmost affix (see Hyman 2002 for other examples of right-to-left harmony that cannot be interpreted cyclically). For the purposes of this review, I accept that the Fula case is a direct counterexample to the claim that vowel harmony is only either cyclic (stem-controlled) or dominant-recessive.
The account of Fula harmony proposed by the author requires three distinct parts that individually contribute to the overall right-to-left nature of the pattern:
(a) high ranking of a positional faithfulness constraint favoring the rightmost vowel of a word (p. 140), to account for the fact that this vowel is the trigger. (b) low ranking (or absence) of any logical conjunctions favoring the edgemost vowels of the root (p. 140), to account for the fact that this vowel is a target. (c) exceptional reversal of "the almost universal ranking" between two positional faithfulness constraints (pp. 143-144), to account for the fact that a vowel between the trigger and an opaque vowel agrees with the trigger.
The last of these three crucial parts of the analysis is particularly problematic. If this exceptional reversal did not hold of the grammar of Fula, then a vowel between the trigger and an opaque vowel would agree with the opaque vowel -- a pattern that is unattested in all cases of vowel harmony, regardless of the relative positions of the harmony trigger, the root, and the opaque vowel. The generalization that appears to be necessary to capture is that harmony always proceeds outward from the trigger; in other words, that the directionality of harmony and the fate of a vowel trapped between the trigger and an opaque vowel are two sides of the same fact, to be captured with one analytical mechanism. This is not so in the author's account of Fula.
I will not pretend here that my own account (Bakovic 2000, 2003) does a better job of capturing this generalization; I think it succeeds rather well with cases of root-to-affix directionality but admit that it encounters problems in other cases (including Fula). But the author's account of directionality in this book also fails to account for the fate of a vowel trapped between two disagreeing opaque affix vowels because it depends on the relative ranking of root and affix faithfulness constraints. Root faithfulness is irrelevant in this kind of case and there is a tie on affix faithfulness, so the fate of the trapped vowel is predicted to fall to other constraints. But as Anderson (1980) has shown with a relevant example from Turkish, the fate of the trapped vowel should be determined by whatever mechanism is responsible for the directionality of harmony.
2. Transparent vowels.
The author shows that the LC account of transparent vowels requires a third conjunct in addition to those noted above: a markedness constraint defining the set of transparent vowels. Without this, other disharmonic vowels (e.g., vowels in disharmonic roots, or other vowels in the same language that may be opaque rather than transparent) are incorrectly predicted to behave transparently. The problem is that the set of transparent vowels is already defined by a markedness constraint against their harmonic counterparts, which are independently absent from the vowel inventory of the language (Kiparsky 1981). Because this is viewed as a coincidence in the author's analysis, the prediction made is that there could be a language in which only certain vowels in disharmonic roots behave transparently (namely, those targeted by the markedness component of the relevant LC), while all other disharmonic vowels behave opaquely. Such a pattern appears to be unattested.
Another consequence of the author's proposal is that it distinguishes a single transparent vowel from strings of more than one. Most accounts of transparency predict that a string of transparent vowels behaves just like a single one; a maximal string of transparent vowels either agrees or disagrees with the vowels on either side. In the author's proposal, each transparent vowel is evaluated independently by the LC: each individual one must either agree or disagree with both of its neighbors. Even in the simplest case of a string of two transparent vowels, then, the only way to satisfy the LC is (i) for the transparent vowels to become harmony triggers, enforcing their harmonic feature value on their neighbors on both sides or (ii) for the transparent vowels to alter their values of other features so that they can (vacuously) satisfy the LC. For a string of transparent vowels to differ in its behavior from a single one in either of these two ways appears to be unattested.
What is attested -- though subject to a significant amount of variation -- is a kind of variant of (i): a string of transparent vowels may behave opaquely, enforcing their harmonic feature value on their neighbors *but on the side opposite the harmony trigger only*. The author claims that this "is perfectly accounted for in this approach", and that the observed variation could be due to variability of the domain assessed by the LC (pp. 166-167). The problem, of course, is that the unattested cases above are also predicted to exist, casting doubt on the overall account.
3. Trojan vowels.
The LC responsible for the behavior of Trojan vowels states: 'if unfaithful, then disharmonic'. This has the desired effect, but only if the feature mentioned by both parts of the Trojan LC is the harmonic feature; if it is some other feature -- or if the language has no harmony at all! -- then apparently random disharmony patterns are expected to be caused by input vowels that must surface unfaithfully due to constraints responsible for the vowel inventory. This problem can perhaps be handled by imposing further restrictions on the ranking of LCs with respect to other constraints, but the solution is by no means obvious.
Given LCs demanding harmony or disharmony (responsible for transparency) and LCs demanding faithfulness or disharmony (responsible for Trojan vowels), what about LCs demanding faithfulness or harmony? It isn't clear that such an LC would have any effect if it mentions a feature that is otherwise harmonic, but it would be easily discerned if it mentions a different feature: apparently random harmony (rather than, as above, disharmony) patterns are expected to be caused by input vowels that must surface unfaithfully due to constraints responsible for the vowel inventory.
A Trojan LC must also be stipulated to apply only to those (input) vowels that are independently missing from the surface vowel inventory. As with transparency, this is accomplished with a third part of the LC: a markedness constraint mirroring the one responsible for the inventory. The arbitrariness of the coincidence in this case is even more problematic than in the account of transparency, due to the fact that another part of a Trojan LC is a faithfulness constraint. The problem is that vowels in positions that are targets of harmony (e.g., affixes) may violate faithfulness when they undergo harmony, which makes them potentially vulnerable to the Trojan LC. Again, random patterns of harmony and/or disharmony are expected by vowels attempting to avoid violation of the Trojan LC.
This last problem is particularly apparent in a comparison between the analyses of Trojan vowels in Hungarian (p. 188ff) and those in Yoruba (p. 200ff). In Hungarian, Trojan vowels are some instances of [i] and [e] (disregarding vowel length), and the [+back] harmonic counterparts of these vowels are independently missing from the surface vowel inventory. In Yoruba, Trojan vowels are some instances of [i] and [u] (disregarding nasality), and the [-ATR] harmonic counterparts of these vowels are independently missing from the surface vowel inventory. The Trojan behavior in each case is accounted for in the manner proposed by the author: (i) by assuming that the Trojan vowels are underlyingly specified with the opposite value of the harmonic feature than they surface with and (ii) with an LC that takes advantage of the fact that these vowels will independently surface unfaithfully, and requiring vowels adjacent to an unfaithful Trojan vowel to disagree with the Trojan vowel.
In the case of Hungarian, there is little more that needs to be said; because the same vowels [i] and [e] are transparent in harmony target positions, they fortuitously satisfy the Trojan LC whether or not they are underlyingly [-back] or [+back]. In Yoruba, however, [i] and [u] are opaque in harmony target positions and thus either satisfy the Trojan LC (if they happen to be underlyingly [+ATR]) or violate it (if they are underlyingly [-ATR]). This forces the author to redefine the Trojan LC for Yoruba (pp. 206-207) such that the faithfulness conjunct only refers to the harmony trigger position. The prediction, of course, is that there could be a pattern in which some of the relevant vowels are opaque while others are transparent, depending on their underlying source. This is unattested. Not only does the markedness conjunct of a Trojan LC accidentally refer to gaps in the surface vowel inventory, it must also duplicate an independently necessary definition of the harmony trigger in languages like Yoruba with opaque vowels.
4. Parasitic harmony.
The analysis of parasitic harmony depends on a condition noted in passing on p. 109: that faithfulness to the attendant feature must be ranked higher than faithfulness to the harmonic feature. The opposite ranking of these constraints would result in a case in which a parasitic LC would be preferably satisfied by a change in the attendant feature. (This consequence is noted by the author, again in passing, on p. 220.) A case of this type -- which may be characterized as dissimilation in terms of one feature only when there is already disagreement in terms of another, or 'parasitic dissimilation' -- is not attested.
It is worth noting at this point that the common denominator of all of the LCs discussed above is a constraint directly demanding disagreement in terms of some feature, and this is arguably the source of much of the problems noted with these LCs. This is perhaps expected, since there is very little evidence for constraints demanding disagreement in terms of some feature in any case: to my knowledge, there exists no language in which every vowel disagrees with its neighbors, such that the result is an unbounded alternating sequence of vowels. Actual cases of dissimilation do require an account, but an account in terms of a dissimilation constraint of the type assumed by the author in the proposed LCs is bound to predict cases of the unattested type outlined here.
I began my critical evaluation by drawing attention to the author's goal (stated in the book's abstract) of providing a unified analysis of four aspects of vowel harmony, among others: directionality, transparency, Trojan vowels, and parasitic harmony. Throughout the book, the particular analyses proposed are contrasted with others found in the literature in terms of alignment, cyclicity, neutrality, privativity/underspecification, targeted constraints, floating features, sympathy theory, optimal domains theory, etc. The extraordinary variety of alternatives discussed makes it easier to accept the claim that the author's account in terms of positional faithfulness and local conjunction is in fact the most unified account to date. Two considerations need to be kept in mind, however.
First, very little of the previous work on vowel harmony has as its analytical goal a grand unified theory of vowel harmony. Most of the work that the author directly challenges addresses some particular aspect or aspects of vowel harmony, often within a single language or very small group of languages, and with the more modest goal of accommodating the analysis of the facts into a larger framework of assumptions. It is thus appropriate for the author to contrast his approach to a particular phenomenon with previous approaches to the same phenomenon; it is inappropriate, however, to conclude from a set of such comparisons that previous approaches have failed to provide unified analyses of the set of phenomena that the author has uniquely chosen to unify.
Second, the unified analysis championed by the author is in many respects at odds with fundamental assumptions of the framework in which it is couched. One of the fundamental assumptions of OT is that different constraint rankings are the primary source of crosslinguistic variation (and the only such source for some). A consequence of any OT analysis is that each of the possible rankings of the constraints in the analysis should, at least in schematic form, correspond to a (different) pattern in some other language.
This assumption and consequence is challenged in various places in the book, most notably at the end of Chapter 4 (pp. 154-155) and in the second-to-last section of the general conclusion (pp. 256-258). This challenge -- that, like constraints themselves, constraint interactions must serve some 'higher' functional purpose -- is embodied here:
"The Bad Ranking Hypothesis: A constraint ranking is counter-productive if it neither facilitates articulation nor interpretation. Such grammars are avoided." (p. 155)
The problem with this challenge is not that it is wrong but rather that it is unformalized. The author mentions such concepts as "general strategies of information structuring", "facilitation of information retrieval" and "maximisation of interpretability" without defining them nor demonstrating how any of the undesirable constraint interactions serve none of these purposes. Since functional motivation appears to be a major underpinning of the proposal, the author has missed an opportunity to propose an explicit theory of it.
Anderson, Stephen R. (1980) Problems and Perspectives in the Description of Vowel Harmony. Issues in Vowel Harmony, ed. by R. Vago, pp. 1-48. John Benjamins.
Bakovic, Eric (2000) Harmony, Dominance and Control. PhD thesis, Rutgers University. [ROA-360.]
Bakovic, Eric (2003) Vowel Harmony and Stem Identity. San Diego Linguistic Papers 1/2. Linguistics Department, UCSD, http://repositories.cdlib.org/ucsdling/sdlp1/2/. [ROA-540.]
Crowhurst, Megan and Mark Hewitt (1997) Boolean operations and constraint interaction in optimality theory. ROA-229.
Hyman, Larry (2002) Is there a right-to-left bias in vowel harmony? Presented at 9th International Phonology Meeting. [http://linguistics.berkeley.edu/~hyman/HymanCV.html.]
Kiparsky, Paul (1981) Vowel Harmony. Ms., MIT.
McCarthy, John and Alan Prince (1995) Faithfulness and Reduplicative Identity. Papers in Optimality Theory, ed. by J. Beckman, S. Urbanczyk and L. Walsh Dickey, pp. 249-384. UMass Occasional Papers in Linguistics 18. [ROA-60.]
McCarthy, John and Alan Prince (1999) Faithfulness and Identity in Prosodic Morphology. The Prosody-Morphology Interface, ed. by R. Kager, H. van der Hulst, and W. Zonnefeld, pp. 218-309. CUP. [ROA-216.]
Paradis, Carole (1992) Lexical Phonology and Morphology: The Nominal Classes in Fula. Garland.
Prince, Alan and Paul Smolensky (1993/2002) Optimality Theory: Constraint Interaction in Generative Grammar. ROA-537. [In press, Blackwell.]
Smolensky, Paul (1993) Harmony, markedness, and phonological activity. ROA-87.
Smolensky, Paul (1995) On the structure of the constraint component Con of UG. ROA-86.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Eric Bakovic is an assistant professor in the Linguistics Department at the University of California, San Diego. His research interests include phonological theory, vowel harmony, and Spanish phonology and morphology.