I'm a graduate student from Korea. :) May I ask you guys a question about phonology?

In the data, divinity and divine, what are the phonological rule and phonological mechanisms for the alternation of the second "i"?

Thank you!

1 Answer 1


There are a number of theories. The sound pattern of English posits the underlying root /dɪvin/, rules of vowel shift and diphthongization which apply to tense /i/ to derive [aj], and a rule known as Trisyllabic laxing which changes /i/ into [ɪ] if two or more syllables follow. Most phonological accounts which accept the premise that the words share a synchonic root follow the main ideas of SPE, though there can be differences (for example changing the claimed vowel property from tense/lax to long/short). Quasi-phonological accounts treat the alternating vowel nucleus as a representational disjunction {[aj],[ɪ]} this /dɪv{[aj],[ɪ]}n/, and then rules saying "select... what; otherwise select...", typically with a list of contexts specified for selecting [ɪ] and selection of [aj] being "elsewhere".

Another approach is simply to not encode the alternation in grammar, so each lexical item is learned separately (divinity is not derived from divine, conic is not derived from cone). Sometimes people posit non-phonological "relatedness rules" that say that the meaning of "cone" and "conic" are connected, and that kind of relation might be strong in "divine" ~ "divinity" but weak in "boil" ~ "bullion". A version of the "not in grammar" account is that people learn rules of spelling when they learn to read so that they know that when certain suffixes follow (such as ity) the letter i is "short". These same rules tell use that the letter a in giraffe is [æ] and not [ɛɪ] (or [ey] in the SPE transcription tradition].


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