A Hierarchy of Phonetic Constraints on Palatality in Russian

Alexei Kochetov
University of Toronto

This paper investigates the factors responsible for neutralization of plain-palatalized contrasts focusing on the phonotactics of Russian. I adopt a different approach that derives neutralization from phonetic perceptual and articulatory factors (Licensing by Cue: Steriade 1997; cf. Flemming 1995, Hamilton 1996, Silverman 1997). In this view a contrast is neutralized in environments poor in terms of phonetic cues and licensed in positions that are high on a scale of perceptibility.
In my analysis of Russian I consider all initial, medial, and final clusters with plain and palatalized stops. I argue that the attested distribution patterns and phonotactic restrictions on clusters can be adequately explained only if we consider the contextual cues to palatalized stops available in release, burst, and approach (Flemming 1995). The fewer cues an environment hosts and the less perceptually salient they are, the more likely palatality will be neutralized in favor of the unmarked plain segment. One can observe that all palatalized stops are maintained in the presence of at least two main sets of cues, high F2 in release and/or approach (V__V and #/C__V). The absence of release is crucial to the neutralization of palatalized velars (V__#). Labials tend to neutralize in the lack of release accompanied by a shorter burst (V__C) or absence of approach (C__#). Coronals are found in most of the contexts, however, there are severe restrictions on these segments before consonants. Only three clusters are allowed here: tjm, djb, and tjk [NB: j is superscripted].Interestingly, in all of these clusters the following segment is a hetero-organic stop or nasal, that is crucial to the realization of the coronal burst in Russian. Accordingly, palatalized coronals in clusters with homorganic segments or laterals are disallowed (*tjt, *tjs, *tjn, *tjl, etc.)[NB: j is superscripted].
Based on these facts I determine the relative salience of contextual cues to Russian palatalized stops (Release Burst Approach) and propose a perceptibility scale, which is formalized as harmonic ranking of constraints requiring neutralization of palatality (*Pal) in different environments. The constraints on gesture combinations that result in fewer cues (e.g. *Pal/C__C or *Pal/V__C) are ranked higher, and those with more cues (e.g. *Pal/__V and *Pal/V__V) are found lower. Ranking the faithfulness constraint PresPal (Preserve a palatalized contrast) against the fixed hierarchy yields a language-particular type of neutralization allowing for different patterns of places of articulation (1). If the contrast is maintained in a less favorable environment, it will be also preserved in all more informative contexts of the hierarchy. I also show that the asymmetries between places of articulation found in this case of neutralization (Coronal Labial Velar; cf. the harmonic place markedness hierarchy: Prince & Smolensky 1993) also have a phonetic motivation: the bursts of palatalized labial, coronal, and velar stops have different degrees of perceptual salience, with the strident fricative burst of the coronal being the most robust cue.
This paper thus both widens the empirical foundation on which a constraint-based theory of neutralization must be based, and in developing such an account provides another insight into the problem of interaction of phonetics and phonology.

(1) Ranking of PresPal against the hierarchy of cued environments in Russian:

                                    Release > Burst > Approach
                    *Pal/C__C          no     no/yes    no
  PresPal (Cor)---------|------            
                    *Pal/#__C          no     no/yes  no/yes
                    *Pal/V__C          no     no/yes   yes
                    *Pal/C__#        no/yes    yes      no      
  PresPal (Lab)---------|------                 
                    *Pal/V__#        no/yes    yes     yes         
  PresPal (Vel)---------|------                
                    *Pal/__V          yes      yes      no
                    *Pal/V__V         yes      yes     yes


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