Paradigmatic contrast in Haitian Creole

Benjamin Storme (SFL-CNRS/Université Paris 8)
19 janvier 2018, 14h0015h30

Paradigmatic contrast describes cases where the phonological grammar seems to conspire to avoid pernicious homophony or similarity between two forms in a morphological paradigm. This paper proposes that a puzzling phonotactic restriction in Haitian can be analyzed as a case of paradigmatic contrast motivated by perceptual similarity avoidance.

In Haitian, pronouns can generally reduce when adjacent to a vowel, but the 3d pers plural pronoun yo [jo] cannot reduce to y [j] after a vowel. This is puzzling because postvocalic [j] is allowed in the Haitian lexicon. The reduction of yo to y is argued to be blocked in coda position to avoid a perceptual confusion with the short form l [l] of the 3d pers singular pronoun li [li] in this context. The hypothesis is supported by external phonological evidence showing that the [l]-[j] contrast may be maintained prevocalically but not postvocalically (e.g. Cibaeno, a Spanish dialect) and by internal perceptual evidence showing that Haitian [l] and [j] are more confusable postvocalically than prevocalically.

If correct, this analysis provides further evidence for the role of phonetic detail in shaping morphological paradigms.

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