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The Analysis of French Shwa: Or, How to Get Something for Nothing

Stephen R. Anderson
Language
Vol. 58, No. 3 (Sep., 1982), pp. 534-573
DOI: 10.2307/413848
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/413848
Page Count: 40
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The Analysis of French Shwa: Or, How to Get Something for Nothing
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Abstract

A number of classical problems in the phonology of French are considered, especially as they relate to the vowel 'shwa' (e-muet). From the rule of Closed Syllable Adjustment (which relates shwa and [ε]), it is concluded that French phonology must be described in terms of representations making explicit provision for syllabic, as well as segmental, structure. The formal representation of syllable structure is discussed, and a concrete proposal is made. On this basis, it is suggested that the vowel shwa should be regarded as a phonological syllabic nucleus unfilled by any phonetic content in underlying structure-analogous to 'empty nodes' in syntax. It is shown that this representation provides a natural treatment of the facts of vowel alternation and elision that have been problematic for previous accounts of shwa. A particular advantage of this analysis is the resulting description of 'h-aspiré' words: these can be characterized as vowel-initial words that are exceptions to a single general schema of 'enchaînement'. Implications for other areas of French phonology, including the treatment of nasal vowels, are also suggested.

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