The Syllable Contact Constraint in Korean: An Optimality-Theoretic Analysis*

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In this paper, we show that a high-ranking syllable contact constraint is the driving force behind the well-known nasalization and lateralization phenomena in Korean. Previous analyses of Korean nasalization and lateralization have accounted for the patterns of alternation by reference to rules of various types and rule ordering, with more recent analyses incorporating feature geometry with underspecification. While some of the previous research has indeed noted the importance of syllable contact as a motivating force behind the Korean nasalization and lateralization phenomena, such research has been unable to directly formalize the role that syllable contact plays in Korean phonology. After first presenting the Korean data that highlights the importance of syllable contact, we develop an optimality-theoretic analysis of Korean nasalization and lateralization in which SyllCon is an undominated constraint. The high ranking nature of this constraint determines which underlying consonantal sequences undergo alternation. The specific type of alternation (lateralization or nasalization) is determined by the lower ranking constraints. We compare our analysis with previous approaches to the Korean nasalization and lateralization problem found in the literature and argue for the superiority of the optimality-theoretic approach.

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