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.
Journée Scientifique de la Société de Linguistique de Paris
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