Hello, I’ve just seen it yet again (“it” = the phenomenon I’m about to describe) and I am intrigued enough to use the Phonoloblog to solicit other phonologists’ views.
Russian is claimed in the research literature to have Final Devoicing; i.e. all obstruents are realized as voiceless in word-final position, irrespective of whether they are underlyingly voiced or voiceless. Yet, when I elicit these forms from Russian speakers I’ve met (usually, students in my classes), I get either partially devoiced or even fully voiced forms – certainly not neutralization of /b/ with /p/, /d/ with /t/, etc.
(a) Student A, asked to make a recording of Russian for a phonetics term paper, produces clear, measurably voiced tokens of [god] ‘year’, [ljog] ‘lay down’, and [‘gorəd] ‘city’.
(b) Student B is asked to demonstrate Russian palatalization contrasts in my class. The example words, by chance, happen to end in underlying voiced obstruents. She starts out by applying Final Devoicing, but on later repetitions produces voiced outputs instead.
I believe that the failure of the published descriptions to carry over to these speakers does not mean that the published descriptions are wrong; rather, I think it’s because the Russian speakers I’ve met are all Americans, who speak fluent English and use English continually in everyday life. English, of course, freely allows final voiced obstruents. Do you agree that this is the most reasonable hypothesis? If true, we might expect that there are no monolingual Russians, living in Russia, who fail to devoice reliably. Is this so?
If the hypothesis of L2 influence is true, I think it would count as a rather intriguing form of cross-language phonological interference. Usually we think of interference like this: “Speaker cannot say [X] in L2, because [X] is unsayable in L1”. But here, it’s “Speaker fails to say the unfaithful surface form [X] in L1, because the faithful candidate *is* sayable in (newly dominant) L2”. The part I find intriguing is that the speaker could perfectly well keep on applying final devoicing in Russian, and thus, in a sense, speak “better” Russian. Nothing in English phonology prevents her from doing so.
Here are two conjectures for what is going on. (a) It’s just an effort to realize the orthography more faithfully (Russian spells the underlying values); this predicts we would not find the effect in speakers who can’t read Russian. (b) More wildly/interestingly, we’re seeing the OO-Correspondence constraints (i.e. for voicing), which have been hypothesized to be innately highly ranked, rising up to dominate a markedness constraint ( *[-son,+vce]#) which has been weakened by exposure to L2. (For the proposed high innate ranking of OO-Correspondence, see http://people.umass.edu/jjmccart/occult.pdf and http://www.linguistics.ucla.edu/people/hayes/Acquisition/).
Lastly: is there a literature on this topic?
Thanks in advance for your input/advice.