Date of Degree

5-2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Linguistics

Advisor

Juliette Blevins

Subject Categories

Linguistics

Abstract

This thesis traces the evolution of the palatalized rhotic /rj/ in Baltic languages with focus on the continuation of this segment in Latvian and its recent neutralization with /r/. Historical, phonological, phonetic, and synchronic data is gathered as evidence to further our understanding of the Latvian palatalized rhotic and its near-disappearance in the 20th century. Previous typological works of Endzelīns (1922, 1951), Dini (1997), Rūķe-Dravņia (1994) and Ābele (1929) were considered intending to answer three central questions. Was the Latvian palatal rhotic a palatalized segment or a true palatal? What factors played a role in the depalatalization of Latvian rj? What are the linguistic and social implications of the loss of contrast between /rj/ and /r/ in Latvian?

Theoretical foundation laid by Evolutionary Phonology (Blevins, 2004, 2006, 2013) explains how co-articulatory and perceptual factors can be considered as possible explanations of the origins of palatalization processes. The advanced Latvian diachronic palatalization patterns combine three "sources" of sound change within the CHANGE-CHANCE-CHOICE model portrayed in Evolutionary Phonology. This paper further examines the nature of the Latvian /ŗ/, evaluating primary vs. secondary palatalization, and providing evidence of the articulation in native speakers.

Cross-linguistically, palatalized rhotics are extremely rare sounds and are disappearing fairly quickly from the consonant inventories of world's languages. In Latvian there are two potential sources affecting gradual loss of palatalized "r". Neutralization results due to the limitations of the physical abilities of human vocal tract. The process also may be affected by intentional removal of the segment from the Latvian language in 1946. The subsequent sociolinguistic implications are evaluated following the loss of the palatalized /rj/ in Latvian.

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