For most phonologists, the process of Final Devoicing, which we can observe in languages such as German, Dutch, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, Catalan and Turkish, did not deserve a lot of attention. One would write a rule of approximately the shape [-son] → [-voice] / __ #/$, and declare the issue resolved.
However, recent years have seen a revived interest in phenomena surrounding devoicing, for a variety of reasons. One of them are developments in the formalism, like that of OT. For one thing, it appears much easier to view devoicing as a rule than as the result of a constraint. There is no consensus yet as to what the constraint should be in OT (e.g. a general constraint against voicing *Voiced, dominated by a faithfulness constraint for onsets, a conjunction of NoCoda with *Voiced, a positional markedness constraint, etc.) and further, Final Devoicing is one of the most famous cases of the so-called Too-Many-Solutions Problem: why would the relevant constraint always be satisfied by deletion of the voicing feature?
Further, lots of empirical work has come out which does not fit very easily with classical views of phonology (including most of OT). First, we find final devoicing both in languages in which the relevant contrast is indeed [voice] (such as Catalan), but also in languages in which it rather involves [spread glottis] (like German), which raises the question what these phenomena have in common from a phonological point of view. Secondly, there is a large body of work showing that final devoicing in many cases is not neutralizing completely, but that there are phonetic traces of voicing in the acoustic signal, and that listeners to some extent can detect these traces at least in experimental circumstances. Thirdly, it turns out that whether or not a given stem is subject to final devoicing is to a large extent predictable given lexical statistics.
Finally, it has become clear over the years that devoicing interacts with many other phonological processes in (varieties of) European languages, such as voicing assimilation, but also lexical tone. It has been claimed as well that certain dialects of French, for instance, have developed interesting phonological phenomena as a result of contact with West-Germanic final devoicing systems.
What is the place of devoicing and other voicing phenomena in phonological theory? Which phenomena need to be accounted for by our theory? Which phenomena CAN be understood by it? This will be the topic of a workshop at the Meertens Instituut in Amsterdam on September 11, 2008, and the University of Leiden on September 12, 2008. The workshop will end in a very big party. Participation (including the party) is free for all readers of Phonoloblog. Invited speakers will be Harry van der Hulst (University of Connecticut) and Ben Hermans (Meertens Instituut).
Please submit an abstract (2 pages max; does not need to be anonymous; pdf file) to Marc.van.Oostendorp@Meertens.KNAW.nl. Deadline: June 28.
Unfortunately I can’t come to the congress, but I hope the following issues will be mentioned…
I don’t know Catalan. Is the contrast really voice alone (as it is in Spanish), or is it [voice] + [fortis] (as in French)?
In German, it depends on the region. What do you mean by [spread glottis]? In the north and center, roughly, the contrast is [voice] + [aspiration] (+, inevitably, [fortis], because aspirated voiceless lenes are probably impossible), where the aspiration disappears in certain environments just like in English; in the southwest, it’s [length] (all plosives are voiceless lenes); in most of the southeast, where I come from, it’s [fortis] alone, neither voice nor aspiration exist phonetically. (Never mind the regions that have no contrast at all.)
In northern/central German, the devoicing goes a step farther and results in fortes. In southern German, there is no devoicing, because there are no voiced plosives or fricatives in the first place (except /v/, which doesn’t occur syllable-finally); instead, in the southeast at least, word-final /t/ ([t]) becomes /d/ ([d̥]) under most but not all conditions — lenition instead of devoicing.