Yuki & Yokuts

I’m pretty sure that the readership of this blog (all 2 of you) is a proper subset of the readership of Language Log, but just in case you were absent one of these two days, my UCSD emeritus colleague Yuki Kuroda passed away late last month. I’ve since spent a little time (with several other folks in my department) working on a website for Yuki, with his obituary, a comprehensive bibliography, many remembrances, and more.

And I’ve also spent time thinking about Yuki’s classic 1967 contribution to phonological theory, Yawelmani Phonology. (Click the link — it’s a new $20 MIT Press Classics Series edition.) The Yawelmani variety of Yokuts is now more commonly/correctly referred to as Yowulmne; since neither name can be found in the Ethnologue, I will henceforth refer to it as Yokuts. (Plus, I think that looks and sounds cooler next to Yuki’s name in the title of this post.)

In a conversation after Yuki’s tribute service last week, I agreed with David Perlmutter (another UCSD emeritus colleague) when he said (something along the lines of) that Yuki’s book made uncommon generative sense of the “deep” morphophonemics of Yokuts. [note] In his remarks during the service, Matthew Chen (yet another UCSD emeritus colleague) had referred to the lasting significance of Yuki’s analysis of Yokuts morphophonemics, in particular the opaque interactions among several of its phonological rules, and he’s also very right about that. Either directly or indirectly via the case study in Kenstowicz & Kisseberth (1979) — aka my favorite textbook — these opaque interactions are the standards against which any alternative to extrinsic rule ordering are typically measured; I have reason to believe that Paul Kiparsky‘s perpetually delayed Paradigms and Opacity book devotes several pages to an argument that you can and must handle all of these interactions intrinsically with his favorite three levels: stem, word, phrase. (Nice.)

And of course we can’t forget the ultimate example of opacity, absolute neutralization, the use of which Chuck Kisseberth famously defended with the multiple strands of evidence for long vowel lowering in Yokuts, or Kisseberth’s other well-known work laying out the evidence for a “conspiracy” in Yokuts among several rules that appear to respond (via blocking or triggering) to the same restrictions on consonant clustering, later understood in terms of syllable structure. I’ve been using Kisseberth (1970) as a lead-in to the material of my first-year graduate phonology course for some time now, and noticed that John McCarthy uses the relevant set of facts to illustrate how to do OT in his Doing Optimality Theory.

It’s all there, in Yokuts. This all made me think back to a crazy idea I had, not too long ago, to teach an introductory phonology class with Yuki’s book as a text. Or a graduate seminar where we’d read Newman’s grammar, Yuki’s book, Kisseberth’s dissertation and other work, the relevant chunks of Kenstowicz & Kisseberth (1979), etc., then move into the 1980s with Archangeli’s stuff, and on into OT and the promises of conspiracies and the problems of opacity. More of a historical course, I suppose, but all the stuff I like about phonological theory kind of guiding you through that history. Cool. Maybe someday — or, maybe that’d make a good book? Hmm.

Well, I missed my chance to write about Yokuts in my recent paper on abstractness, but you can be reasonably sure that I won’t miss it again in my paper-in-preparation on opacity (which I am very, very late with, so I guess I’d better go).

Note. — As Yuki pointed out in his preface, his analysis was “a reformulation of Professor Stanley Newman’s description of the Yawelmani language in terms of generative phonology”: the relevant data had already been described and made somewhat different sense of by Newman in his 1944 Yokuts language of California (Viking Fund publications in anthropology No. 2, Viking Fund, New York; reprinted 1963 & 1968, Johnson Reprint Corp., New York). [back]

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