Vocalic dorsality in Articulator Theory

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On the strength of Halle’s (1995) demonstration that assimilation processes spread only terminal elements, Halle et al. (2000) propose to revise the Articulator Theory of feature geometry (Sagey 1986 et seq.) by treating designated articulators not as nodes but as features (viz. [coronal], [labial], [dorsal]) since indeed they participate in assimilation. Halle (2005) goes on to conclude that all features are terminal (since all may spread) and that we should dispense with subsegmental nodes altogether. Aside from these revisions, Halle (like Padgett and Yip) retains the feature-geometric conception of (local) assimilation as spreading. Revised Articulator Theory also preserves a long tradition in taking the tongue body to be the designated articulator of vowels (Halle 2003; Levi 2008), a view that is anathematic to the now dominant school of feature geometry known as Vowel-Place Theory (Clements 1989 et seq.). Thus current Articulator Theory uniquely generates the strong hypothesis that vowels are specified for an articulator feature [dorsal] which can spread individually because it is terminal in the segment. On the further (also traditional) assumption that phonotactics intensify within syllable rhymes, a more precise prediction can be made: [dorsal] may spread from any vowel to any adjacent segment, and coda consonants are favored targets. This specific prediction of current Articulator Theory is borne out in a variety of velarization patterns across languages. Revising and extending an original proposal by Paradis and Prunet (1993), I show that vowels can spread [dorsal] to a following tautosyllabic consonant, be it nasal, obstruent, or liquid. I also argue that extant alternative analyses fail. My conclusion is that the frequency and range of velarization effects argue strongly in favor of the Articulator Theory view of vowels (Halle 2003; Levi 2008): they are [dorsal], and this is a terminal feature.
phonology, vowels, vowel features, velarization, articulator theory
Flynn, D. M. (2012). Vocalic dorsality in Articulator Theory. School of Languages, Linguistics, Literatures and Cultures, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB. pp. 1-31.