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I am struggling with performing a phonological analysis (within the framework of Lexical Phonology) on the following data.

In an unspecified English dialect, the distribution of the vowels æ (tense) and æ: (lax) can be depicted as follows:

(Note that this is just the words and their spelling, and not a phonological representation)
[æ]
H_T
L_CK
T_P
P_TCH
L_DDER
D_GGER
#_DDER(snake)
B_DGER
M_NNER
P_NEL
P_NIC
PL_CID
P_SSAGE
S_NITY
V_NITY
OP_SITY

[æ:]
B_G
ST_B
B_N
M_N
H_M
G_S
M_th
M_DDER
BR_GGING
B_DDIE
#_DDER (person who adds)
B_NNING
SC_MMING
SC_NNER
G_SSING UP
G_SSER
L_G EFFECT
G_S EMISSIONS
L_MB ENCLOSURE
TO B_N IT
TO G_S UP
TO B_G UP

Q1: Derive the SR's from a UR of your choice. Describe how and at what lexical level your rule(s) apply. Give evidence by giving some relevant examples from the data. A1: It seems pretty clear that æ: should be chosen as UR, as the usage is less restricted (æ occurs only before voiceless stops OR before a consonant followed by a vowel, while æ: can occur before voiced and voiceless consonants).
Rule A: æ: -> æ / _CV

Rule B: æ: -> æ / _[-voice +stop]

Q2. Is the distribution of æ and æ: sensitive to lexical/morphological factors? If yes, explain in what way.
A2: Yes, it seems that æ only occurs in either underived lexical items or morphemes affected by level 1 changes, while æ: occurs in underived lexical items as well as mophemes affected by level 2 changes.

Q3: Is the difference between the vowels contrastive? If yes, in what way?
There is a minimal-pair that can be found: adder (snake) and adder (person who adds). However, using the framework of Lexical Phonology: they are not seen as contrastive. This is because the words are at different levels. Their respective UR's are different: /ædər/ (snake) and /æd/ (to add). So when the level 2 affixation -er (present tense marker) is added to /æd/, it is not possible (because of strict cyclicity) to go back and perform rule A again.

I am pretty sure my answers lack clarity at best and that they are incorrect at worst. Any help is greatly appreciated.

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  • I don’t know anything about Lexical Phonology – what are UR and SR? Also, the suffix -er is an agent noun marker, not a present tense marker. Jul 22 '20 at 22:32
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I am guessing this is a UK dialect, since I disagree with a number of the factual claims. There are major gaps in the data, which should mean you are free to predict either outcome in those contexts. Overall, your analysis looks "rightish".

It is fairly well-known that there is a general vowel shortening triggered by voiceless coda stops, and that the shortened vowels are somewhat higher than the "regular" vowels. This applies to all vowels, and results in 4-way surface differences like beat/bead/bit/bid. This is generally "allophonic" and non-neutralizing, so it isn't necessarily phonological as opposed to being phonetic implementation -- the two words "adder" would be crucial in that respect. Your analysis doesn't mention the syllable. Part of what makes this problem a bit odd is the difference between VCV sequences within words versus between words (VC#V). But we also know that there can be (dialectally) special syllabification in the context VC#V especially with unstressed following words. The question is: if you frame the analysis in terms of syllable structure and not CV sequences and if affixation or phrasal concatenation can result in different syllabifications, how does your analysis change?

More than once, I have heard the argument that equates frequency with proof of underlying basicness, and as many times I have argued that that argument is invalid, unless you stipulate it as an axiom of analysis (LP does not). The first question is why you think the underlying representation and the surface representation are not the same: what forces you to reduce the surface representations (SR) to more abstract underlying representations (UR)? Do you think there is some mandate to reduce the number of segments in underlying forms?

The idea that distribution is sensitive to lexical or morphological is factors is a conceptual error. The thing (rule) that causes a distribution may be sensitive to such factors, but the distribution is itself completely insensitive. In classical Lexical Phonology, the rules are not sensitive to lexical or morphological factors. The rules simply apply when the required structures are present. If within a single level you still had a rule which distinguishes certain morphemes which trigger / undergo the rule from ones that don't, then you could say that the rules are sensitive to morophological or lexical factors. But you don't have that. Instead, you have a rule that applies in a specific level, but doesn't care about the M/L factors. Level ordering generates behavior that sometimes resembles morpheme-specific conditioning.

The question about contrastiveness is meaningless without a definition of contrast. If "contrast" means "both are present in the dictionary", and you have an axiom of phoneme-elimination from the dictionary, then the two variants of æ would not be contrastive (not both found in the dictionary). Otherwise, they are contrastive. The argument that "the words are at different levels" is wrong. The output is a level; both words exist at that level; they are minimal pairs at that level. It does not matter that they are "brought about" at different levels. As always, invoking "contrast" without a definition of what "contrast" is is a mistake.

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    I doubt it's a UK dialect given the list includes math and to gas up, not that it really affects the answer. I see it also includes "opasity"...
    – rchivers
    Jul 23 '20 at 8:48
  • Australian?
    – Rosie F
    Jul 24 '20 at 8:21

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