Catalan has a process whereby word-final non-continuants undergo deletion and nasal assimilation. For example /ben+k/ surfaces as [beŋ] 'I sell'.

Why is this relation opaque?

Note: I found this question in some lecture notes from 2011 and can't find the answer.


I don't know much about Catalan, but based on the example it seems like a more accurate analysis is that nasals assimilate in place to following obstruents and then word-final non-continuants undergo deletion. So:

  1. /ben+k/ --> beŋk
  2. beŋk --> [beŋ]

This interaction is opaque because once the word-final consonant is deleted we no longer see on the surface what triggered the place assimilation in the nasal.

These rules, ordered how they are, are in a counterbleeding relationship. If word-final non-continuant deletion happened first, then there would be nothing to trigger the nasal place assimilation. In other words, the deletion would bleed the assimilation. But as they stand the rules are in the opposite--counterbleeding--order. This kind of opacity results in a surface form that appears as though a certain rule (in this case the nasal place assimilation) has "overapplied".

I hope that's clear! Feeding, bleeding, counterfeeding, and counterbleeding can be kind of confusing.

  • Yes. As I recall, the terms "counterbleeding" and "counterfeeding" were introduced by Koutsoudas, Sanders, and Noll. The relationship to "before" in linear ordering is that a rule A is before a rule B when A feeds B, or A bleeds B, or A is counterbled by B, or A is counterfed by B. – Greg Lee Mar 22 '18 at 2:40

Insofar as the question is tagged for OT, I assume the question is specifically "within OT". This article by McCarthy give what is essentially the defining position on the concept in OT. He notes that the term derives from rule-theoretical work by Kiparsky in the early 70's. McCarthy adopts a phenomenological definition (he unfortunately has to approximate K's intent):

A phonological rule P of the form A→B/C_D is opaque if there are surface forms with any of the following characteristics: (a) Instances of A in the environment C__D, (b) Instances of B derived by P that occur in environments other than C__D, (c) Instances of B not derived by P that occur in the environment C__D.

Under clause (b) [beŋ] is opaque, because ŋ is derived by P (place assimilation) but the context "Ø_k" is not present in the surface form (the left context is null, the triggering element on the right is not present on the surface). Which is basically what musicallinguist said, with definitions and references inserted. As it turns out, OT "accepts" the concept wholesale from rule theory, but rejects it as a theoretical concept which epiphenomenological (as it was in rule theory).

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