Non-automatic alternations in phonology

April 15, 2023 – University of Vienna

Invited speaker: Sabrina Bendjaballah (CNRS & Université de Nantes)

Natural languages offer many examples of phenomena that eschew the extraction of a generalisation, but rather call for lexical storage, such as classic examples of suppletion (go/went, I/me, good/better etc.). On the other hand we find alternations that are completely general and invite a treatment in terms of principles/rules/constraints: tapping in English, phrase-final devoicing of Turkish r, vowel reduction in Brazilian Portuguese etc. As soon as we come to less clear-cut cases, however, we enter a battle field — the question of what to do with phenomena such as English Velar Softening (electric/electricity), German Umlaut (Wolf/Wölfe) or the various Polish palatalisations (noga/nodze) has occupied generations of linguists and prompted the development of various solutions: the birth of morphonology (Trubetzkoy 1931); the subsumption of all such phenomena under phonology (Halle 1959, Chomsky & Halle 1968) with the option of having different strata (as in Lexical Phonology, Kiparsky 1982), indexed constraints (Alderete 1999, Ito & Mester 1999), or co-phonologies (Orgun 1996, Inkelas and Zoll 2005); making those phenomena a part of morphology (Ford & Singh 1983), or the lexicon (many versions of Government Phonology, e.g. Kaye 1995); combining insights from different models of storage and computation (e.g. the stratal approach in Bermúdez-Otero 2012), to only name a few. Furthermore, the boundaries between the various components (phonology, morphology, lexicon) are sometimes argued to be fuzzy (Dressler 1985).

The arguments in favour of one or the other solution revolve around questions like these:

  • What is the function of the phenomenon in question? In particular, does it signal a morphological category? Do we lose a generalisation if we relegate the phenomenon in question to the lexicon?
  • Can a phonological phenomenon refer to morphological properties and if yes, which ones?
  • Does a phonological phenomenon have to be exceptionless/automatic? Does it have to be (fully) productive? Does it have to apply in loanwords? Does it have to be carried over to L2-acquisition?
  • Does the phenomenon in question have to be natural? Does there have to be a connection between target and trigger?
  • Are there different components/strata, and if so, what is their architecture? Are they strictly separated from each other or do they shade off into each other?

Obviously, all those questions refer back to a more fundamental issue: What is the role and purview of phonology, and (how) does it differ from other areas of our linguistic competence?

Today, despite decades of scholarly research, the issue is far from resolved. This workshop focuses on the discussion of the above-mentioned questions; its goal is to evaluate the state of affairs, and to identify possible directions for future research that may help to get closer to a consensus.

We welcome two types of contributions: on the one hand, presentations may discuss how specific non-automatic alternations in a certain language (such as, for example, German Umlaut) can (or cannot) be treated in different phonological theories, and whether this presents evidence in favour of a specific approach. On the other hand, we also invite contributions that evaluate different theories/models that have been proposed in the literature to deal with non-automatic alternations, preferably in the light of broader discussions on the structure of grammar (e.g. by comparing them to current theories of other components or of a general architecture of grammar).


Alderete, John. 1999. Morphologically governed accent in Optimality Theory. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Bermúdez-Otero, Ricardo. 2012. The architecture of grammar and the division of labour in exponence. In: Trommer, Jochen (ed.). The morphology and phonology of exponence: the state of the art. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 8-83.

Chomsky, Noam & Morris Halle. 1968. The Sound Pattern of English. New York, Evanston, London: Harper & Row. 

Dressler, Wolfgang. 1985. Morphonology: the dynamics of derivation. Ann Arbor: Karoma Publishers.

Ford, Alan & Rajendra Singh. 1983. On the status of morphophonology. In: Richardson, John F. , Mitchell Marks & Amy Chukerman (eds.). Papers from the parasession on ‘The Interplay of Phonology, Morphology and Syntax’. Chicago, 22–23 April 1983. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society. 63–78.

Halle, Morris. 1959. The Sound Pattern of Russian. A Linguistic and Acoustical Investigation. The Hague: Mouton. 

Inkelas, Sharon & Cheryl Zoll. Reduplication: doubling in morphology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Itô, Junko & Armin Mester. 1999. The Phonological Lexicon. In: Natsuko Tsujimura (ed.). The Handbook of Japanese Linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell. 62-100.

Kaye, Jonathan. 1995. Derivations and interfaces. In: Jacques Durand & Francis  Katamba (eds.). Frontiers of Phonology: Atoms, Structures, Derivations. London, New York: Longman. 289–332.

Kiparsky, Paul. 1982. From Cyclic Phonology to Lexical Phonology, in: Hulst, H. van der and N. Smith (eds.). The Structure of Phonological Representations (I). Dordrecht: Foris. 131-175.

Orgun, Cemil Orhan. 1996. Sign-based morphology and phonology: with special attention to Optimality Theory. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California, Berkeley..

Trubetzkoy, Nikolaj S. 1931. Gedanken über Morphonologie. Travaux du Cercle linguistique de Prague. 4. 160–163.