Tongue Root Harmony And Vowel Contrast In Northeast Asian Languages

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This dissertation investigates the synchrony and diachrony of the vocalism of a variety of Northeast Asian languages, especially Korean, Mongolic, and Tungusic languages, which have traditionally been described as having developed from a palatal system. The dissertation rewrites the vocalic history by demonstrating that the original vowel harmony in these languages was in fact based on an RTR, rather than a palatal, contrast, and provides a formal account for the development of individual vowel systems within the framework of Contrastive Hierarchy (Dresher, 2009). Following the general and theoretical background in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 begins to explore how the vowel contrasts in the modern Mongolic languages are hierarchically structured. It proceeds to propose an RTR analysis for Old Mongolian (contra Poppe, 1955) based on a combination of arguments from the comparative method, the typology of vowel shifts, and the phonetics of vowel features. Consequently, the palatal system in Kalmyk/Oirat is understood not as a retention but an innovation as a result of an RTR-to-palatal shift, contra Svantesson's (1985) palatal-to-RTR shift hypothesis. Chapter 3 presents an innovative view that Middle Korean had an RTR contrast-based vowel system and that various issues in Korean historical phonology receive better treatment under the contrastive hierarchy approach. Chapter 3 also argues that Ki-Moon Lee's (1964, 1972) Korean vowel shift hypothesis is untenable, based on the RTR analysis of Old Mongolian presented in Chapter 2. Chapter 4 shows that an RTR-based contrastive hierarchy analysis also holds for the lesser-studied Tungusic languages including Proto-Tungusic. Turning to theoretical issues, Chapter 5 investigates the minimal difference between Mongolic vs. Tungusic /i/ in terms of its transparency/opacity to labial harmony (van der Hulst & Smith, 1988). The contrastive hierarchy approaches to the Mongolic and Tungusic vowel systems in the previous chapters, coupled with a "fusional harmony" approach (Mester, 1986), provide a very simple but elegant solution to the minimal difference between the two languages, allowing us to maintain the Contrastivist Hypothesis (Hall, 2007). Chapter 6 addresses empirical and theoretical implications of the major findings in the main chapters and concludes the thesis.
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contrastive hierarchy; tongue root harmony; Tungusic; Mongolic; Korean; vowel shift
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Whitman, John
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Zec, Draga
Cohn, Abigail C
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Ph. D., Linguistics
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Government Document
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dissertation or thesis
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