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Title:Distinctiveness, Coercion and Sonority: A Unified Theory of Weight
Authors:Bruce Moren
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Abstract:Distinctiveness, Coercion and Sonority: A Unified Theory of Weight

Bruce Moren

University of Maryland, College Park

Cross-linguistically, phonological weight systems can be quite complex.

There are many factors to take into account when describing and

explaining weight patterns, including:

1) segment type (consonant or vowel),

2) sonority,

3) weight distinctiveness,

4) prosodic weight requirements, and

5) phonological environment (including syllable position).

The interaction of these factors can sometimes obscure relationships

among them, thus leading to several separate approaches to account

for different pieces of the weight puzzle. For example, distinctive

vowel length and distinctive consonant gemination are often seen as

different phenomena to be accounted for in different ways. Similarly,

vowel lengthening and weight by position are seen as almost completely

unrelated. However, a thorough inspection of data from a large number

of languages leads to the conclusion that a unified theory and

mechanism of moraicity across segment types (i.e. both consonants and

vowels) is warranted. This work provides such a unified theory.

The two main goals of this dissertation are:

1) to examine and review the nature and patterns of segment weight,

including: inventories, processes, and dependencies; and

2) to provide a simple and economical account for the observed

descriptive generalizations within the framework of Optimality Theory

(OT) and Moraic Theory.

In addition, it becomes clear throughout this work that one major

advantage of OT over traditional rule-based theories is the

typological predictions intrinsic to the architecture. Since OT

constraints are universal, violable and re-rankable, their factorial

ranking potentially yields all possible grammars. In the case of

segmental weight, the factorial ranking of three simple constraint

families yields the major descriptive generalizations found


Chapter 1 reviews evidence for different degrees of weight,

presents the syllable representations assumed throughout this work,

and demonstrates that there are two sources of weight - coerced and

distinctive. Coerced weight is a restriction on surface moraicity in

some phonological context (e.g. weight by position and foot binarity),

and is subject to distributional restrictions based on sonority. In

contrast, distinctive weight is an underlying moraicity reflected in

a surface contrast (e.g. geminate versus non-geminate intervocalic

consonants), and is not bounded by sonority. Both sources of weight

are observed to be relevant to both vowels and consonants.

Chapter 2 briefly reviews Optimality Theory and Correspondence

Theory, discusses the relationship between OT and typology, and

presents the factorial rankings (permutations) of three types of


1) General moraic markedness constraints against moraic segments of

different types - ranked in a universal hierarchy based on sonority;

2) Coercive moraic markedness constraints; and

3) Faithfulness constraints on underlying moraic affiliation with

segments of different sonorities.

Chapter 3 uses data from a number of languages to show that

the descriptive generalizations discussed in chapter 1 emerge

naturally as the result of interactions among the constraints

formalized in chapter 2.

Chapter 4 expands on chapter 3, and provides in-depth case

studies of segment moraicity and other phenomena in Hawaiian, Modern

Standard Italian, Kashmiri, two Hungarian dialects, two Icelandic

dialects, and Metropolitan New York English. This chapter gives

detailed descriptions of different weight patterns; reveals that the

constraints proposed in this work can be integrated into more complete

grammars, and shows that different dialects can arise from a minimal

re-ranking of constraints.

Chapter 5 is a repository for miscellaneous issues, as well as

the general conclusions. Specifically, it provides a discussion of

why there is no need for constraints that target long vowels and/or

geminate consonants to derive inventories; it addresses the work of

Broselow, et al (1998) regarding phonetic reflections of phonological

weight; it discusses the advantages of using negative moraic

markedness constraints over positive constraints; and it shows that

Tranel's (1991) Principle of Equal Weight for Codas is the logical

result of constraint interaction.
Article:Version 1