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Tense? (Re)lax!

A new formalisation for a controversial contrast

Acta Linguistica Academica
Markus A. Pöchtrager


This article looks at what is referred to as the tense/lax contrast in English and proposes that members of the two sets of vowel have the same basic structure but differ in how part of that structure is made use of by its neighbours. The proposal forms part of a general theory of the representation of vowel height within the framework of Government Phonology 2.0.

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This article addresses some shortcomings in the standard theory of the phonology-morphology interface within Government Phonology, which is built on the dichotomy of analytic/non-analytic morphology. I argue that many cases which had previously been thought to be analytic and therefore to require a cyclic application of phonology should be reinterpreted without: Many constructions that seemed to consist of domains inside domains are better understood without that internal structure. This alternative avoids some contradictory results of the standard model, which incorrectly precludes certain kinds of interactions between the nested domains. The reinterpretation also makes better sense of the phonological shape of (allegedly analytic) affixes by taking into account phonotactic possibilities of clusters with more than three consonants, which had so no far not received a satisfactory analysis in the Government Phonology literature.

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This article argues that vowel reduction can be insightfully understood by reinterpreting openness as structural instead of melodic (i.e., mediated by an element). This allows for a unified account of various reduction phenomena in different languages and also extends to lenition in consonants. The proposal made here is couched within Government Phonology 2.0, a further development of Government Phonology.

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