Iosad: Slavic Phonology

The sound patterns of the Slavic languages played a foundational role in the development of Western phonological theory. Both structuralist and generative phonology share a history (or pre-history) of close engagement with Slavic data and extensive traditions of its analysis. Despite these historical links, the approaches and results achieved in these traditions in dealing with essentially the same data can be strikingly different. Much of this divergence can be ascribed to differences in how to approach the close and complex interaction of morphology and phonology that is characteristic of Slavic languages.

In this course, we will critically consider a number of Slavic sound patterns and focus on how they have been treated within the generative/SPE tradition. Despite significant changes in the general approach over time, including the development of nonlinear phonology and a swing towards and away from surface-oriented theories such as OT, the approach to Slavic phonology has remained surprisingly stable, and in some ways unchanged since the pioneering era of the 1950s and 1960s. Much current work still operates with abstract underlying representations and long synchronic derivations that more or less explicitly recapitulate historical developments — an approach that has been problematized or fully abandoned in other empirical domains.

We will ask if it is still true consonant palatalization always derives from following front vowels; if consonant-final words still end in yer vowels; how many vowel phonemes we need, and how to find this out; when to give up on phonology; and how to tie it all together.

We will work on these problems together: the course will be suitable both for students with some knowledge of generative phonology but no knowledge of Slavic and for those without extensive expertise in SPE tradition. Some suggested specific readings will be provided nearer the time.

If you have no knowledge of generative phonology, but are keen to acquire some, I recommend looking through an introductory textbook: I suggest

Kennedy, Robert 2017. Phonology. A Coursebook. Cambridge: CUP. [pdf]