Phonology vs phonetics : The adaptation of the French rhotic into Berber

Mohamed Lahrouchi (SFL, CNRS & Univ. Paris 8)
25 octobre 2019, 14h0015h30

This paper examines the adaptation of the French rhotic in Berber. In loanwords borrowed from (“Standard”) French, the uvular fricative is systematically interpreted as a coronal tap, despite the fact that Berber has phonemic /ɣ/ and /x/ : e.g. byʁo > biru ‘office’, sɛʁʒɑ̃ > ʃarʒan ‘sergeant’, tχɛ̃ > træn ‘train’.

Two hypotheses are discussed : One which claims that the adaptation of loanwords is done by bilinguals who have access to the underlying representation of the French rhotic (Paradis & LaCharité 2001), and the other which argues that loanwords adaptation is governed by phonetic (perceptual) cues (Peperkamp et al. 2008, Bakst & Katz 2014, Peperkamp 2015). Under the phonetic hypothesis, Berber speakers should have mapped the French rhotic onto the closest sound in their language, namely the velar fricative /ɣ/ or /x/. As to the analysis advocated by Paradis & LaCharité, one wonders how monolingual uneducated people, who arrived in France in the early 1970s, interpret the French uvular systematically as a coronal although they don’t have access to the phonology of the source language (e.g. [ʁ]ouen > [ruwa] ‘city name’, met[ʁ]o > [metˤro] ‘subway’, a[ʁ]genteuil > [arʒantæj] ‘city name’, place voltai[ʁ]e > [blɑsˤbuntir]).

This paper aims at demonstrating that the adaptation of the French rhotic in Berber is a phonologically driven process. Taking Paradis & LaCharité (2001) as a starting point, it is argued that the selection of the coronal tap at the expense of the velar fricative is due to its phonotactics. Berber speakers identify the French r as a sonorant, which patterns with l in complex onsets. This is further supported by the hypothesis put fourth in Lahrouchi (2010), according to which the obstruent-sonorant cluster is active in the Berber phonology, despite the absence of complex onsets in the language (Ridouane et al. 2014, Lahrouchi 2018).

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