In linguistics, an alternation is the phenomenon of a phoneme or morpheme exhibiting variation in its phonological realization. Each of the various realizations is called an alternate. The variation may be conditioned by the phonological, morphological, and/or syntactic environment in which the morpheme finds itself.
Alternations provide linguists with data that allow them to determine the allophones and allomorphs of a language's phonemes and morphemes and to develop analyses determining the distribution of those allophones and allomorphs.
Phonologically conditioned alternation
- See also: Allomorph
An example of a phonologically conditioned alternation is the English plural marker commonly spelled s or es. This morpheme is pronounced [s], [z], or [ɪz], depending on the nature of the preceding sound.
- If the preceding sound is a sibilant consonant (one of /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /tʃ/, or /dʒ/), the plural marker takes the form [ɪz]. Examples:
- mass [mæs], plural masses [ˈmæsɪz]
- fez [fɛz], plural fezzes [ˈfɛzɪz]
- mesh [mɛʃ], plural meshes [ˈmɛʃɪz]
- mirage [mɪˈrɑʒ], plural mirages [mɪˈrɑʒɪz]
- church [tʃɝtʃ], plural churches [ˈtʃɝtʃɪz]
- bridge [brɪdʒ], plural bridges [ˈbrɪdʒɪz]
- Otherwise, if the preceding sound is voiceless, the plural marker takes the form [s]. Examples:
- mop [mɑp], plural mops [mɑps]
- mat [mæt], plural mats [mæts]
- pack [pæk], plural packs [pæks]
- cough [kɔf], plural coughs [kɔfs]
- myth [mɪθ], plural myths [mɪθs]
- Otherwise, the plural marker takes the form [z].
- dog [dɔg], plural dogs [dɔgz]
- glove [glʌv], plural gloves [glʌvz]
- ram [ræm], plural rams [ræmz]
- doll [dɑl], plural dolls [dɑlz]
- toe [toʊ], plural toes [toʊz]
Morphologically conditioned alternation
- masculine petit [pəti], feminine petite [pətit] "small"
- masculine grand [gʁɑ̃], feminine grande [gʁɑ̃d] "big"
- masculine gros [gʁo], feminine grosse [gʁos] "tall"
- masculine joyeux [ʒwajø], feminine joyeuse [ʒwajøz] "merry"
- masculine franc [fʁɑ̃], feminine franche [fʁɑ̃ʃ] "sincere"
- masculine bon [bɔ̃], feminine bonne [bɔn] "good"
Syntactically conditioned alternation
Syntactically conditioned alternations can be found in the Insular Celtic languages, where words undergo various initial consonant mutations depending on their syntactic position. For example, in Irish, an adjective undergoes lenition after a feminine singular noun:
- unmutated mór [mˠoːɾˠ] "big", mutated in bean mhór [bʲan woːɾˠ] "a big woman"
- unmutated beic [bəik] "bike", mutated in Prynodd y ddynes feic [ˈprənoð ə ˈðənɛs vəik] "The woman bought a bike"
- ↑ Cohn, Abigail (2001). "Phonology", in in Mark Aronoff and Janie Rees-Miller (eds.),: The Handbook of Linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 202–203. ISBN 0-631-20497-0.
- ↑ Steriade, Donca (1999). "Lexical conservatism in French adjectival liaison", in in Jean-Marc Authier, Barbara E. Bullock and Lisa A. Reed (eds.),: Formal Perspectives in Romance Linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 243–70. ISBN 90-272-3691-3.
- ↑ Green, Antony D. (2006). "The independence of phonology and morphology: The Celtic mutations". Lingua 116: 1946–85. ISSN 0024-3841.
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