Tal Linzen

Variation and variable exceptionality in Russian prepositions

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Phonological rules can be variable in two ways: they can apply to a subset of the lexicon (lexical variation), or apply optionally, with a probability that depends on the phonological environment (stochastic variation). These two types of variation are occasionally seen as mutually exclusive. We show that the vowel-zero alternation in Russian prepositions ([s trudom] ‘with difficulty’ vs. [sə stinoj] ‘with the wall’) exhibits both types of variation at the same time. In two corpus studies and a nonce word experiment, we document novel stochastic factors that influence the alternation: similarity avoidance, stress position and sonority profile. These constraints interact additively, lending support to a weighted constraint analysis. In addition to the phonologically determined stochastic variation, we find significant lexical variation: phonologically similar nouns differ in the rate at which they condition the alternation in the prepositions. We analyze this pattern by augmenting the weighted constraints approach with lexical scaling factors.

Last updated: July 2013