Palatalization in Common Slavic: An Experimental Approach

Geoff Schwartz, University of Washington

This paper addresses the question of whether consonants in CS were characterized by secondary palatalization. A solution to the problem is proposed based on a suggestion by Shevelov (1965) that secondary palatalization developed due to the presence of on-glide before front vowels. The plausibility of this solution, which is one element of a wider analysis of palatalization in Slavic outlined in Schwartz (2001), will then be tested by means of a synchronic phonetic and perceptual study of modern Russian. Such an approach to diachronic study, pioneered by Ohala (1981), not only offers a fruitful and innovative perspective on problematic issues in historical linguistics, but also helps contribute to our overall knowledge of phonetics and speech perception.

Three native Russian speakers are recorded pronouncing a set of Russian sentences designed to isolate contrasts between sequences of the type C'V and C'jV. These sequences are then examined with respect to several phonetic cues including frication noise associated with palatalized stops, and F2 transition associated with the glide /j/ (Halle, 1959). Instrumental analysis of data showed a clear relationship between the two types of sequences in the parameter of frication noise, supporting the hypothesis that the presence of a glide was instrumental in the development of secondary palatalization. The perception test carried out in this study provided additional support for this hypothesis, since listeners had difficulty distinguishing whether a glide was present or absent when listening to the sequences in isolation.

The paper goes on to discuss implications of this experimental study for the overall study of Russian phonetics, phonology, and speech perception.