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The Phonology Test

Ulfheðnar ber Sarkur

Ahh, the phonology test! It’s a rite of passage among linguists-to-be. There are those who grok the interplay of phonemes and the ordering of phonological processes, and there are those who decide to question whether such complex mechanisms could be instantiated in the human subconscious and whether their apparent existence is merely the echo of historical processes. That second type also tends to drop phonology by the second prelim and scurry off to some “philosophy of language” classwhich is not even taught by the linguistics department, for crying out loud!

Dr. Professor Noarn Chornskywho has recently moved to take up a position as the Extraordinarily Distinguished Institute Laureate Professor of Linguistics, Language, and Life at the University of Arizorıahas agreed to let SpecGram republish here the 2007 final exam for his phonology courseLing 66¡9Qat his previous academic home, the Institute of Massachusetts Technology.

The exam, which includes a hint of background information about the completely not-made-up language the data is taken from and the phonological transformations covered in class, is provided below. If you think you’ve aced the test and figured out the order of the phonological rules, send your solution to the editors of SpecGram by November 15th, 2017, and you could win a prize. The correct solution and winners, if any, will be announced in the December issue.

Ling 66¡9QPhonology, FALL 2007
Dr. Prof. Noarn Chornsky
Final Exam

This semester we have been investigating the language Timanto, created by L. L. Zamenhof in 1889 during a spell of depression. It has since become the native language of a small number of children born to grad students who have had to repeat this course several times in order to pass it.

As we’ve seen over the last few months, Timanto productively coins new words through the use of extensive noun compounding. These compounds are subject to a plethora of phonological processes.

First, a reminder of the phonological facts we know:

The six examples below are subject to the eight rules above. Not all eight rules apply to every word, and they do not apply in the order listed above. Your task is to determine the proper ordering for all eight rules based on the data provided below.

underlying form: kθù + θùs + pù
surface form: kθùsùː
gloss: “failure shame couch”
meaning: futon
underlying form: ãːčit + i + no
surface form: ãːčĩoː
gloss: “space bear apparatus”
meaning: Mir space station
underlying form: qə + sés + éa + n
surface form: qəzéã
gloss: “ignominy bird offspring stone”
meaning: chicken egg
underlying form: inθũː + ki + nà + pó
surface form: ĩðũːkĩàpóː
gloss: “barbarian phlegm slime vengeance”
meaning: mayonnaise
underlying form: mĩː + fof + o
surface form: mĩːvoː
gloss: “ocean snot knot”
meaning: clam
underlying form: màθ + lít
surface form: maðəlít
gloss: “word monkey”
meaning: linguist

The solution to last issue’s puzzle, Post Script, is explained below. The Editor-in-Chief obviously intended for the inscription to be written in Cherokee, given that the obelisk is in the middle of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.

Hiragana /e/
गो Devanagari /go/
Amharic /du/
லு Tamil /lu/
Khmer /do/
දු Sinhala /du/
Katakana /e/
ಗೊ Kannada /go/
દુ Gujarati /du/
ཙོ Tibetan /tso/
Each of the symbols on the paper is from a different syllabary or abugida, to be read to the Cherokee-speaking chiseler from the ᏣᎳᎩ Obelisk Company. Consult the provided table of syllables, scripts, and Cherokee transcriptions for more details.

The Cherokee symbols spell out RASMVS RASK, which is the intended inscription because SpecGram is far too classy to carve the letter “U” into stone. (The fact that the Cherokee syllabary does not contain a letter that looks like a Roman “U” is completely coincidental.)

Each of the puzzlemeisters below will receive some moderately desirable SpecGram merch:

Thorsten SchröterKevin CardeYuval Wigderson

In addition, the following puzzlers have achieved the everlasting glory that comes with an honorable mention:

Dan SidorovOlivia Doherty

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SpecGram Vol CLXXX, No 1 Contents