Government Phonology:

Syllabification, syllabic effects and morphophonology


Eugeniusz Cyran (Catholic University of Lublin)


In this paper I present the bare bones of Government Phonology, a theory of representations in which the structure of words and phonological effects follow from a few principles of organisation of speech sounds.


First, we will look at the basic organising principles such as licensing and government and demonstrate how the two concepts interact in the form of two scales defining syllabic ‘space’. Syllable typology and markedness as well as such processes as vowel epenthesis and vowel – zero alternations will be claimed to stem from this interaction and illustrated with data from Dutch and Polish.


The main problem of this paper will concern the morphological / lexical marking of word forms as containing an alternation site at the right edge of the word. Alternations such as sweter / swetra [sfeter / sfetra] ‘jumper/’ must be distinguished from forms which instead of the alternation exhibit integrity of the final cluster, for example, wiatr / wiatru [v’atr / v’atru] ‘wind/’. In standard Government Phonology, it is assumed that the alternation site contains an empty nucleus, whose presence is an arbitrary lexical fact of these forms, and whose interpretation depends solely on the shape of the final nucleus – the inflectional ending. That is, if the inflectional ending is a zero morpheme then the preceding empty nucleus must vocalise as [e] because a sequence of two empty nuclei is forbidden ([sfeter]). The clusters which remain integral word-finally are assumed to be adjacent at the skeletal level, that is, no empty nucleus intervenes.


A closer investigation of the clusters of both rising and falling sonority profile at the right edge as well as of alternation sites points to the conclusion that the distribution of the empty nuclei is not an arbitrary fact and that it has contextual conditioning not in the nature of the following nucleus, but in the nature of the surrounding consonants.


It will be claimed that the model of syllabic ‘space’ presented initially may allow us to understand the phonotactic tendencies at the right edge in Polish if we properly identify the regularities which are purely phonological from those of morphophonological character.