Base-Identity and the Noun-Verb Asymmetry in Nivkh

Hidetoshi Shiraishi (

This paper concerns the asymmetric behavior of nominal and verbal stems with respect to two phonological phenomena of Nivkh (Paleo-Siberian, Russia). One is the exceptional behavior of fricative-initial nouns to Consonant Alternation. In Nivkh, the initial obstruent of the second constituent in a morpho-syntactically defined domain undergoes either hardening or spirantization depending on the phonological context. Fricative-initial nouns, however, form a systematic exception to this rule and never undergo hardening, while verbal stems undergo hardening as expected. The second phenomenon is Final Fricative Devoicing, which forces the final fricative in an Intonational Phrase to surface as voiceless. Fricative-final nominal and verbal stems exhibit an interesting asymmetry with respect to this restriction when a suffix follows; while verbal stems always end in a voiced fricative, nominal stems always end in a voiceless fricative. Again, it is the nominal stem which exhibits exceptional behavior since its final fricative appears exclusively as voiceless, even though it is not the last segment in the Intonational Phrase and hence no longer the target of Final Fricative Devoicing. I will argue that the asymmetric behavior of nominal and verbal stems in both Consonant Alternation and Final Fricative Devoicing to be due to their different morpho-lexical composition; while nominal stems may surface in isolation, verbal stems should always be accompanied by a morphological extension. I conclude that this asymmetry is an instance of Base-Identity, a cross-linguistically observed generalization in which an independently occurring base form forces its derivatives to be similar as possible, at the cost of the canonical phonology of the language. This analysis is superior to previous works in which the exceptional behavior of nominal stems was simply stipulated as such.

CLCG Klankleer Group Workshop 'On the Boundaries of Phonology and Phonetics'