Eric de Roulet
(University of British Columbia)
Paper long abstract:
Linguists who specialize in the Altaic linguistic area and/or the Uralic languages readily recognize that both vowel harmony and disharmony are ubiquitous among these language groups (Hahn 1991). Generative phonologists, in their endeavors to explain disharmony, took a largely synchronic approach to analysis, producing long-winded disputes and solutions that solve their own equations yet propose improbable psycholinguistic processes for language acquisition. Meanwhile, generativists' contemporaries in Korean studies such as Wanjin Kim (1978), Chin W. Kim (1978), Namgui Chang (1982) and Shirô Hattori (1982) utilized a diachronic approach that yielded a more watertight analysis of disharmony and other harmonic changes from Middle Korean (15th c.) onward. Young-Key Kim-Renaud (2008), Sang-Oak Lee (2003), and Ho-Min Sohn (2001) have produced better results still, again using diachronic methods and with little or no recourse to generative devices such as abstract underlying forms and optimality theory, and at least some Western linguists (Binnich 1991, Hahn 1991) have seen similar results through diachronic analysis. What is found wanting even in this diachronic literature, however, is a psycholinguistically-based, causal explanation for the emergence of disharmonic forms. Where generative phonologists' attempts at such have not proven productive, a perspective grounded in usage-based linguistics can provide an explanation that neglects neither speakers' cognition nor the histories of their languages. Based on my prior work—a critical review of the history of harmonic rule-changes in Korean, and an original pilot study of vowel formants from publicly available records of speakers' conversations—I present a diachronic, usage-based model to explain not only the emergence of disharmonic forms but also harmonic rule-loss over time. I then apply the same model to an analysis of vowel harmony in modern Uyghur, which lends itself to this line of analysis despite its genetic and areal distance from Standard Korean. I then claim, in response to Robert Binnich's (1991) assertion that cross-linguistic influence is not a necessary explanation for harmonic loss, that his assertion is accurate in a strict sense, but also that substantial cross-linguistic influence can act as a potent catalyst for disharmony and rule-loss.
Narratives and Areal Linguistics