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On the evolution of consonant harmony: the case of secondary articulation agreement*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 July 2007

Gunnar Ólafur Hansson
University of BritishColumbia


Consonant harmony involves long-distance featural assimilation, or agreement, of consonants across intervening segments. Current correspondence-based analyses of such sound patterns assume that they originate in the cognitive exigencies of articulatory planning, either synchronically, through the functional grounding of the constraints responsible, or diachronically, whereby processing factors incrementally shape the lexicon over time. This paper challenges the validity of this assumption as an all-purpose functional explanation for the full range of long-distance consonant agreement patterns by demonstrating that a variety of diachronic trajectories underlies their emergence and evolution. Focusing on the comparatively rare phenomenon of secondary articulation agreement, the evolutionary histories of three cases are examined: (labio)velarisation agreement in Pohnpeian (Oceanic), palatalisation agreement in Karaim (Turkic) and pharyngealisation agreement in Tsilhqot'in (Athabaskan). These histories provide explanations for a range of synchronic properties of the systems in question, some of which are problematic for restrictive typologies of consonant harmony.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2007

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