Hijo Kang

Stony Brook University
Talk Title: 
Diachrony in Synchrony: Korean Vowel Harmony in Verbal Conjugation
Event Type: 
Dissertation Defense
Summer 2012
Friday, July 13, 2012, 11:00 am
S-207 Social & Behavioral Sciences Bldg.

Abstract:   This dissertation investigates patterned variation in the [a]~[ʌ] alternation of some verbal suffixes, which is the only productive process of vowel harmony in Korean. The extension of [ʌ]-forms to the environments that originally took only [a]-forms resulted in variation (e.g. harmonic form [tɕapa] and disharmonic form [tɕapʌ] ‘to catch-decl’), indicating that loss of vowel harmony is in progress. The likelihood of the disharmonic form is affected by factors such as the morphophonological class of the stem, the identity and position of the suffix, and the quality of the stem vowel. First, p-irregular stems generally take [ʌ]-suffix forms irrespective of the stem vowels. Second, of about 13 productive harmonizing suffixes, a sentence-ending suffix –a/ʌ, frequently used in casual speech, is realized as [ʌ] even with stems containing /a/, while other harmonizing suffixes usually surface as [a]-forms in harmony with the stem vowel /a/. Third, of the two kinds of [RTR] stems (/a/-stems and /o/-stems), which originally trigger [a]-forms, only /a/-stems allow the variation. The results of a Google corpus study, a judgment survey, a production experiment, and a spontaneous speech study are presented to confirm the effects of the factors mentioned above.

The dissertation addresses the question of why these factors should be associated with the innovative forms. First, I argue that the extension of the [ʌ]-forms to a class of irregular stems reflects changes in the lexical representation of these stems. Second, I present evidence that the extension of the disharmonic form to a particular suffix is most likely in sentence-final position, and argue that this position imposes particular faithfulness requirements. Finally, I explain the fact that disharmonic suffix forms are more likely to be used with stems containing the vowel [a] than the vowel [o] by comparing Korean speakers’ ability to correctly identify the two vowels. I present evidence that the perception of [a] was robust, while the perception of [o] was less accurate, arguing that /o/-stems may need harmonized suffixes to enhance their perceptibility (Kaun 1995).