If a language has separate phonemes /r/ and /d/, the distinction between which appears to be contextually neutralized after the nasal /n/ on the grounds that the sequence [nr] never occurs in the language and that morphophonemic //un+rak// and //un+dak// will both yield phonetic [undak], is this R-fortition a phonological or a morphophological process? On the one hand, the nonexistence of the sequence [nr] and the fact that [nd] occurs instead where [nr] would be expected suggests to me that it is phonological. On the other hand, the phenomenon of R-fortition can only be observed across a morpheme boundary, suggesting that it is morphophonological. Hence, my question is whether morphophonemic //un+rak// yields phonemic /unrak/ and then phonetic [undak] or if morphophonemic //un+rak// yields phonemic /undak/ and then phonetic [undak], and how can we tell in a situation like this?

Thank you.

3 Answers 3


The distinction is a theory-dependent terminological one. Taxonomic structuralist linguistics distinguishes allophonic vs. neutralizing phonology, and some people distinguish "automatic" phonology (no grammatical or lexical restrictions) from grammatically-restricted phonology. "Morphophonology" can refer to "not allophonic", or it can refer to "not governed by purely phonetic factors". Your brackets etc. in the last sentence suggests you're asking about the taxonomic view. That is basically the correct analysis, and you can't "tell" empirically, rather it is a question of whether neutralization is necessarily a morphophonemic process.

  • Interesting. So even for the phonemic inventory of a language, there is no one right answer but rather various equally valid interpretations? For instance, vowel length could be indicated with a chrone phoneme (:) or by a sequence of two like vowel phonemes (aa), with both being equally valid? Who are some prominent authors in the taxonomic structuralist school and where can I read more about it? Thank you.
    – C. L. Juan
    Nov 9, 2017 at 12:15
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    I recommend looking at actual practice in the day, especially language descriptions. So, Samuel Martin (Korean), William Bright (Karok), MAR Barker (Klamath), Bender (Marshallese). Bloch "A set of postulates for phonemic analysis" is an important theory piece.
    – user6726
    Nov 9, 2017 at 14:52

It's not a fortition; it's an assimilation. The r becomes a stop after the stop n. Assimilations are lenitions.

In my understanding of the term "morphophonemic", it refers to a change whose effect is phonemic. Since /d/ is a phoneme, that makes this change morphophonemic.

Probably in the SPE version of generative phonology, such an example would be accommodated by making the rule subject to the linking convention of Chapter 9 in SPE (so that once r becomes a stop, it also ceases to be retroflex or liquid).

  • /n/ is not a stop.
    – fdb
    Nov 10, 2017 at 17:25
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    @fdb, Yes, it is. A stop has complete stoppage of air in the mouth (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasal_consonant). Perhaps you'd be more comfortable with "non-continuant". Anyhow, what term you use is irrelevant here.
    – Greg Lee
    Nov 10, 2017 at 19:44

The purpose of both phonemic and morphophonemic analysis is to produce simpler underlying descriptions for what appear on the surface to be complicated patterns. In purely phonemic analysis the data is just a set of words in a language, while for the purposes of morphophonemic analysis the words must be considered in grammatical paradigms to take account of the underlying morphemes.

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