Getting your Gutturals out of the Mind: An Assessment of the Role of Phonology in the Patterns of Historical Gutturals in Modern Hebrew

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In traditional accounts of Hebrew morphology, the primary basis of word formation is an underlying consonantal root and vocalic/prosodic template. However, many words in Modern Hebrew containing reflexes of historical gutturals deviate from the canonical form with regard to syllable structure, the number of surface root consonants, and the number and quality of vowels in the template. These deviations can be characterized as deletion, vowel epenthesis, and vowel lowering, suggesting that the exceptional words can be explained via phonological approaches. Indeed, phonological explanations have been by proposed by previous generative and Optimality Theory (OT) accounts (Bar-Lev 1977, Bolozky 1978, Faust 2005), though these studies have been limited with regard to their explanatory scope. The present paper begins both by expanding on these treatments using a wider array of ordered rules and ranked constraints than was previously proposed and by exploring their limitations. To address their shortcomings, this paper then adopts an Evolutionary Phonology (EP) framework. Under an EP analysis, we can assess the extent to which the tools of phonology are appropriate for explaining patterns involving the modern reflexes of the gutturals by exploring multiple sources of explanation for these patterns: phonetic and historical factors, external factors such as language contact and prescriptive norms, and analogical change (Blevins 2004). The source of vowel lowering and epenthesis is posited to be the effects of the relatively high F1 associated with gutturals, which became phonological processes in Biblical Hebrew (McCarthy 1994). Incorporated into Hebrew orthography, these effects remained evident in Modern Hebrew, despite the fact that the guttural triggers themselves were not recovered in the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language in the late 1800s (Sáenz-Badillos 1993) and therefore did not form part of the synchronic phonology. After considering non-phonological sources of explanation for vowel lowering and epenthesis, deletion alone is left as a strictly phonological process. This paper proposes that the synchronic effects associated with vowel lowering and epenthesis should be explored using the tools of morphology rather than those of phonology.

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