|Title:||Minimal contrast and the phonology-phonetics interaction|
|Abstract:||This dissertation investigates the role of minimal contrast in phonetic patterns and phonological phenomena. Two sounds are minimally contrastive when they differ in just one property. The main findings are that (i) minimal contrast can influence the outcome of phonetic effects and that (ii) phonological processes may single out minimally contrastive elements. A contrast-coindexing function is developed in order to mark elements that are minimally contrastive for some property.
An experimental study is conducted to test the influence of minimal length contrast on the phonetic voicing effect, a pattern by which vowels are longer before voiced than before voiceless obstruents, in Lithuanian. In Lithuanian, only high and low vowels are minimally contrastive for length. Mid vowels are always long. The experimental results indicate that contextual modification of vowel duration is more limited for those vowels that are minimally contrastive for length than for those that are not. These results are argued to stem from the functional requirement to maintain distinct contrasts.
The experimental results show that phonetic patterns can be sensitive to minimal contrast. Therefore, I argue that the phonological representation must include information about minimal contrast, which the phonetic component can access. I formalize this contrast with a contrast-coindexing function. Framed within Optimality Theory, contrast-coindexing applies to minimally contrastive segments capable of distinguishing pairs of words, adopting a systemic approach to contrast. Under the contrast-coindexing analysis, length contrasts are represented using the same mechanisms as for other contrasts. This approach has implications for the moraic representation of length contrasts, which fails to capture minimal length contrast.
The proposal to incorporate minimal contrast into the phonological representation predicts that this kind of contrast might also be active in phonological phenomena. Evidence for this prediction is presented from vowel height harmony in Lena Asturian. In Lena, only vowels that are minimally contrastive for height can trigger harmony. The typology of vowel harmony illustrated by several varieties related to Lena lends further support to the claim that minimal contrast is active in the phonology. The contrast-coindexing proposal is extended to other phonological patterns, in which minimally contrastive elements are singled out.