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Defectiveness and homophony avoidance1

  • MATTHEW BAERMAN (a1)

Abstract

The idea that certain morphological and phonological irregularities are due to speakers' desire to avoid homophony is widely invoked, yet has also come under strong criticism as an explanation which is neither necessary nor sufficient. In most cases there is no way to resolve the question, since the assumption that something is being avoided is itself a theoretical construct. In this article I attempt to address this last difficulty by looking at gaps in inflectional paradigms – where it is clear that something is being avoided – that plausibly correlate with potential homophony. These fall into two types: (i) lexical, where portions of the paradigms of two lexeme would be homophonous, and (ii) paradigmatic (i.e. syncretism), where forms within the paradigm of a single lexeme would be homophonous. Case studies of Tuvaluan, Russian, Mazatec, Tamashek and Icelandic confirm the effects of homophony avoidance as a genuine, if non-deterministic, principle.

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Corresponding author

Author's address: Surrey Morphology Group, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 7XH, UKM.Baerman@surrey.ac.uk

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[1]

The research and writing of this paper were funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) under grant number AH/D001579/1, and the European Research Council under grant number ERC-2008-AdG-230268 MORPHOLOGY. Their support is gratefully acknowledged. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Décembrettes 6 conference in Bordeaux, 6 December 2008. Thanks to the audience there for their questions and comments. I would also like to thank Kristín Bjarnadóttir, Dunstan Brown, Patricia Cabredo-Hofherr, Carol Capen, Greville Corbett, Gunnar Ólafur Hansson, Jóhannes Gísli Jónsson and Maarten Kossmann, as well as two anonymous JL referees, for helpful discussion of various points.

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References

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