Friday, November 16, 2012

You say Iuli, I say Iulii…

There is something to this *VVV constraint in Latin. If you remember, as I did this afternoon, there is an alternate genitive for 2nd declension -ius nouns, the constraint gets some more evidence for its existence. Exhibit 1: the most famous gens Romana: Iulius. But in the genitive it can be either Iulii or Iuli. Curious that. (And thank the dead language phonologist's friend, Latin grammarians, that surface forms got written down.)

What is interesting—to me, and since I write the blog, we look at what I find interesting—is that even though the /ɪiː/ at the end is two syllables, it is close enough to violating *VVV that the underlying /ɪ/ gets deleted.


While both forms pick up one violation the *VVV violation is worse, so [juːliː] is favored. Now tell me that doesn't make sense and give some strong evidence for the existence of *VVV in Latin.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A list of known phonetic tricks in Latin

I woke up and realized that there are a lot more phonetic tricks going on in Latin than had occurred to me yesterday. I'm going to use play loose with IPA here (mostly so I don't have to go fiddling with fussy characters. I'll tighten things up later when there isn't a child running amok). Part of what makes this tricky is that Latin's orthography hides the underlying representation by using the surface forms in writing.

/urbs/ → [urps]
/adfero/ → [affero]
/inperfectus/ → [imperfectus]
/adcusativus/ → [accusativus]
/obstare/ → /opstare/
/recapio/ → /recipio/
/inlatus/ → [illatus]
/abfero/ → [aufero]

This should be enough to keep my memory fresh. A lot of these tricks are mentioned in beginner textbooks, so their action is well known. The matter will be to see if there are any constraints that can be drawn out to explain the mess. Recipio could be particularly enlightening. /a/ becomes [ɪ] when the stress goes away?

The prepositions a/ab and e/ex are a trick. Which form is underlying? The worst part is that the divide is really easy to describe. Oral consonants get the short form. Everything else (i.e. /h/ and V) get the long form.

/e urbe/ → [ex urbe]

/a(b) te/ → [abs te]

Though given that the archaic form is abs te, my hunch is that [ab] is the underlying form.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Constraints in Latin phonology

In phonology we're moving away from rules, which seem to be language-specific, and towards constraints. I've got my objections to constraint-based phonology, but it also seems elegant. Or at least clean.

So here's a rule in Latin. It's not a hard rule, but it seems to be frequent enough that it works. And good enough to get to modern Spanish. Maybe some more tinkering would make it solid, but then the number of rules multiplies. Anyway, the rule. Or something really close to it. There's probably a morpheme boundary involved, but let's ignore that for now, shall we?
/w+ɪ/ ➝ Ø / Vː__
It is at least productive enough to yield parāstī from parāvistī. So that's the constraint table I'll put up. I'm going to focus on just a few forms to keep things under control.

Clearly there is a *VVV constraint in Latin. There are long vowels and diphthongs, which are effectively VV. There are short vowels, which are V. But no VVV—extra long vowels or long vowel diphthongs. Ever. So that's an easy constraint. It even seems fatal in all situations—unless you can somehow kludge in hiatus. That would violate DepIO (the constraint that says not to add things in), so I feel pretty safe in ignoring that possibility here.

There also seems to be a constraint against eliminating the conjugation's theme vowel going on. I can't put my finger on any scientific reason you'd want to do this, but it seems like a way to avoid creating ambiguity. In any case, syncopated forms in Latin preserve the conjugation's theme vowel in the perfect. If there's no theme vowel in the perfect stem, there's no syncopation.

On to the tableau.

*theme vowel deletion


An ugly problem turns up. The tableau predicts the wrong winner. We want to get [pɑrɑːstiː] as the clear winner so that it is the favored colloquial form to get passed to Spanish. The problem is that we need to violate MaxIO by deleting [] and still get the win. Meanwhile the full form [pɑrɑːwɪstiː] violates no constraints in the above tableau, but needs to lose. 

Or maybe no such problem existed in 1st century BCE Latin. You could use either form. The MaxIO violation must have been so weak that something like [pɑrɑːstiː] could start competing with the winner [pɑrɑːstiː]. After all, [pɑrɑːstiː] doesn't take information out of the verb: in fact, it eliminates redundancy. The -istī ending is unique to the perfect tense, so dropping the perfective -v- couldn't create ambiguity. From there all you've got to do is push the first i in -istī over to the stem and get an underlying second person perfect morpheme of -stī. Then there's no good reason to keep the first i. (Sounds simple when I put it that way.) But that's beyond phonology, no?

EDIT: I think there's something to all of this. Some goodies about SR in Latin orthography that may provide a springboard for further investigation. Some evidence for *VVV.

Double EDIT: Nemo Oudeis tells me that the v-deletion can also occur in other places (divitior > ditior; divitissimus > ditissimus), but not remembering these for sure I understated the matter.

Note about the table: Support for tables in Blogger poor. Nay, non-existent.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Creeping ergativity in English

Once again, I heard Rick Kogan on the radio. It's like a habit or something. Anyway, one of his guests said something like this (and I wish I could remember the exact quote, but it was like this).
Both me and her went to work.
I'm going to guess that in reading you wanted to * this. And indeed, if it hadn't been "me and her" this would pass muster. Tense is right. General arrangement of constituents is right. Case marking on the pronouns is wrong. Or is it? Here are some more examples.
*Me went to work.
*Her went to work.
I would bet that even the radio guest would reject that. I also suspect that this would be considered wrong too.
*Us went to work.
I also seriously doubt that this would pass muster too.
*Me and him saw the dog.
EDIT: Or maybe it would in non-standard varieties of English. Now that I think of it, I can't think of a situation where "me and him" is so outrageously wrong that you can't use it. So much for the notion of ergativity in English. Because…

But here my lack of corpus fails me, and I don't have a recent speech example. I'm not even sure that my native-speaker intuition will help me here. I wish it did. I'd love to be able to show that this is ergativity creeping in to English.

It looks like it is sensitive to pronouns, which would be the only place Ergativity could rear its head in English anyway, but not any old pronouns. It looks like it needs to be a compound subject with a first or third person (probably singular) in one of the subject slots. I also have a strong suspicion that it is sensitive to conjunctions.

Throw this into the just another thesis idea category.

Monday, November 5, 2012


I was driving home today and heard Rick Kogan interviewing Mike Daisey [ˈdiʲzi] on WBEZ about his current exhibit at the MCA in Chicago. During the interview they talked about monologues. Natural enough, since Daisey is a monlogist. And therein lies a tale.

I'm trying to figure out the Greek for it, so bear with me here. Here are the parts, with accents in place.
Which means that as a "native" Greek word might be something like:
With a pronunciation of something like:
Which brings us to English. We aren't going to pronounce that last [ɛːs] as it seems to have been lost for us English speakers. If it patterns like philologist—and I see no reason why it wouldn't—we would expect the accent to fall on the first lo.
And Kogan patterned monologist like that.
Daisey on the other hand said something else.
Now, I've never heard the word said before today. I knew exactly what Kogan meant the first time he said it. I knew that Daisey was using the same word when he said it differently too. Yet they both said it differently. Some background: Kogan is a white, Chicago native in his 60s. Though he doesn't have a college degree, he's been steeped in words via his parents and profession (or so the Wikipedia article would lead me to believe). Daisey on the other hand is a white, (presumably) East Coast native in his 30s. He apparently has a college degree from a small liberal-arts college (or so his Wikipedia article would lead me to believe).

Anyway I'm still not sure how to say monologist, though I'm strongly tempted by Kogan's pronunciation. It at least builds on the analogy of words I already know. Daisey maintains the /g/ as [g], which is no small appeal. All I know for sure is that the primary stress and secondary stress are separated by an unstressed syllable—like most polysyllabic English works. Oh well. Better than nothing.