Different speakers, different grammars: Productivity and representation of Xhosa labial palatalization
Keywords:Xhosa, morphophonology, experimental phonology, variation, dissimilation, palatalization, productivity
While cross-linguistic studies suggest that palatalization is preferentially triggered by high and front vocoids, and that it targets coronals or dorsals, Xhosa has a process of palatalization that is triggered by [w], and that targets only bilabials. This paper presents a wug test experiment, showing that some Xhosa speakers do systematically generalize this phenomenon to nonce words. This suggests that for those speakers, labial palatalization is indeed learned as part of their phonological grammar. Additionally, our findings show that some other speakers systematically do not apply palatalization in nonce words, suggesting that they have learned it as a pattern in the lexicon, and not as part of phonology. Drawing on evidence from a separate wug test experiment, we show that the inter-speaker variation in our results cannot be explained away as a task effect. As such, our results show that different speakers can have fundamentally different grammatical representations of the same sound pattern. Though Xhosa’s labial palatalization pattern is phonetically unnatural, that does not indicate that it is necessarily outside the domain of phonology proper.