Law of three consonants in French phonology
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Description: Grammont's (1914) influential Law of Three Consonants (LTC) states that French schwa is obligatorily pronounced in any CC_C sequence to avoid three-consonant clusters. Later works have shown that schwa presence is also sensitive to the nature of the consonants involved, at least at the word and phrase levels. However the LTC is still generally considered as accurate under its original formulation to describe schwa-zero alternations at the stem level. The goal of the paper is to test whether the LTC should be relaxed even in this context. The paper presents two studies using judgment data to compare the behavior of schwa in derived words (stem-level phonology) and in inflected words (word-level phonology). The results of the two studies show that the nature of consonants involved in the CC_C sequence plays a role at both stem and word levels. Moreover, the same phonotactic asymmetries among consonant clusters are found in both contexts. The data therefore support a weaker version of the stem-level vs. word-level divide than what is usually assumed for French. This conclusion is strengthened by the results of a modeling study showing that a constraint-based grammar with the same phonotactic constraints across stem- and word-level phonologies provides a better fit to the judgment data from Study 1 and Study 2 than a grammar with different phononotactic constraints in the two morphosyntactic domains. The paper also replicates a number of earlier findings on the role of morphosyntactic domains, clash avoidance, and dialectal variation in schwa-zero alternations.
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