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Publication - Dr Damien Mooney

    The variable palatal lateral in Occitan and Catalan

    Linguistic transfer or regular sound change?


    Mooney, D & Hawkey, J, 2019, ‘The variable palatal lateral in Occitan and Catalan: Linguistic transfer or regular sound change?’. Journal of French Language Studies.


    This article examines the linguistic mechanisms governing the distribution of phonetic variants of the phonemic palatal lateral, /ʎ/, in two obsolescent Romance languages traditionally spoken in France: Occitan and Catalan. In both languages, the palatal lateral is realised as [ʎ] or [j] and this variability may be interpreted as an intermediate stage in a change which will lead to the phonemic merger of the palatal lateral with the palatal approximant (referred to as ieisme in Catalan), neutralising the /ʎ/~/j/ contrast and entailing loss of the lateral. The varieties examined in this study find themselves in long-term language contact with French, a Romance language in which the /ʎ/>[j] change has come to completion and which no longer contains a phonemic palatal lateral. The /ʎ/>[j] change had taken place in French by the end of the nineteenth century and is commonly considered to be the result of internal simplification, neutralising a phonemic contrast with a low functional load; indeed, we will show that this change has occurred in other Romance languages that do not find themselves in situations of long-term contact.
    For Occitan and Catalan, however, we might assume that contact with and transfer from French is an important factor in the advancement of the /ʎ/>[j] change in these dying languages, but we cannot discount the possibility that the change may also be conditioned by language internal factors, as it has been
    elsewhere in Romance (e.g. yeísmo and lleísmo in Spanish). In this study, we ask: how do we account for variation and change in obsolescent languages that appears to be due to contact with a dominant language when, in fact, the change has taken place historically in the dominant language and in other, phylogenetically related, language varieties? To answer this question, we examine internal and external mechanisms governing the /ʎ/>[j] change in both Occitan and Catalan, using impressionistic and acoustic phonetic data from 20 Occitan-French and 20 Catalan-French bilinguals. We first examine
    the transfer from French of phonetic segments and of constraints on variation, before investigating internal linguistic mechanisms governing variation and change in both languages that cannot be attributed to contact with French. In the discussion, we address the issue of the ‘actuation problem’ (Weinreich et al., 1968: 102), determining what actually triggers this change in the first

    Full details in the University publications repository