Defectiveness and homophony avoidance

2010 Journal of Linguistics  
The idea that certain morphological and phonological irregularities are due to speakers' desire to avoid homophony is widely invoked, yet has also come under strong criticism as an explanation which is neither necessary nor sufficient. In most cases there is no way to resolve the question, since the assumption that something is being avoided is itself a theoretical construct. In this article I attempt to address this last difficulty by looking at gaps in inflectional paradigms -where it is
more » ... s -where it is clear that SOMETHING is being avoided -that plausibly correlate with potential homophony. These fall into two types : (i) LEXICAL, where portions of the paradigms of two lexeme would be homophonous, and (ii) PARADIGMATIC (i.e. syncretism), where forms within the paradigm of a single lexeme would be homophonous. Case studies of Tuvaluan, Russian, Mazatec, Tamashek and Icelandic confirm the effects of homophony avoidance as a genuine, if non-deterministic, principle.
doi:10.1017/s0022226710000022 fatcat:34be5ola2be5digcaqfbm7zv4a