Structure-preserving sound change:
How and why?

Juliette Blevins
University of California, Berkeley

A cross-linguistic survey of natural phonetically motivated sound change shows that there is a strong tendency for certain types of sound change to be structure preserving, while others are generally not. Sound changes whose output usually conforms to pre-existing sound patterns include compensatory lengthening, perceptual metathesis, and syncope of unstressed vowels in VC_CV contexts. Sound changes which result in new segment or syllable types include nasal-place assimilation, sibilant palatalization, and loss of final voiceless vowels.

After demonstrating the association between certain types of sound change and structure preservation, I show how the model of sound change proposed in Evolutionary Phonology (Blevins, to appear) accounts for these associations. Central to this analysis is the role of Structural Analogy in language acquisition: in the course of language acquisition, the existence of a (non-ambiguous) phonological contrast between A and B will result in more instances of sound change involving shifts of ambiguous elements to A or B than if no contrast between A and B existed.

Blevins, Juliette. To appear. Evolutionary Phonology. Cambridge University Press.

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