A Gestural Account of Neutral Segment Asymmetries in Harmony

Caitlin Smith


Harmony is a process by which some property (e.g. nasality, lip rounding, tongue root position) spreads throughout some domain. Neutral segments are those that do not participate in harmony; they may block the spread of a harmonizing property or remain transparent to it. Typical analyses of neutral segments in harmony often make use of feature co-occurrence restrictions between a harmonizing feature and some feature of an intended target. However, any co-occurrence restriction responsible for blocking behavior can also be employed to induce transparency, over-generating possible patterns of transparency in harmony. Within rounding harmony and nasal harmony, the set of crosslinguistically attested transparent segments is a proper subset of attested blockers. These asymmetrical patterns of distribution are not predicted by standard approaches to neutrality in harmony in which neutral segments are the result of a single mechanism within the phonological grammar. This paper proposes that the adoption of a gestural representation of harmony accounts for the comparatively limited sets of transparent segments in rounding harmony and nasal harmony, and it does so via two distinct driving forces responsible for transparency and blocking.


nasal harmony; rounding harmony; neutrality; gestural phonology

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/amp.v3i0.3663

Copyright (c) 2016 Caitlin Smith

License URL: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/