Be a Linguistics Survivor—Out-Think. Out-Publish. ... Out Cold.—J. Probst and X. Pedition Robinson SpecGram Vol CLXXXI, No 3 Contents The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective

A Note on dice ‘dice’Response to O’Moarfz (2018)

Ἀστράγαλοι Κυβιχησκιῐ
University of Pennsylvania

O’Moarfz (2018) presents an original and resourceful analysis of the English plural in -s, arguing forthmostly that the underlying form (UF) of the plural is /-s/. A wide range of articulatory, typological, and psycholinguistic data is adduced to support, and in support of, this analysis. I welcome O’Moarfz’s proposal both as an important addition to the literature on the English plural and as a contribution to linguistic theory in general: the theoretical content of the paper will go some way to easing the central tension of generative linguistics, that is, that between languages in particular and Language in general.

However, an addendum must be addended to O’Moarfz’s discussion of the derivation of the English word dice ‘dice’ (pronounced [days], with the diphthong [ay] as in price). O’Moarfz’s analysis that the surface form (SF) [days] is derived by affixing a plural morpheme -s to the stem /day/. This is in one sense correct; affixing /-s/ to /day/ would indeed produce [days]. What the analysis misses is the wealth of sociodialectal, acquisitional and neuroacoustic data showing that the orthography of a language is in fact an uncannily perfect description of a speaker’s mental representations (Chomsky and Halle 1968). The key fact for our purposes is that the English word dice ‘dice’ is spelt <dice>, which the reader will notice is not the same as our earlier phonemic transcription as [days].

Here, I propose to resolve this apparent mismatch between the surface form and the evident underlying form using a sequence of extrinsically ordered rules. Each of these rules has some independent motivation from elsewhere in the morphophophonology of English.

Figure 1: proposed derivation of die ‘die’ and dice ‘dice’

/die/ /die-s/
1.S-hard­ening die diec
2.C-meta­thesis die dice
3.MEOSL die di:ce
4.C-soften­ment die di:se
5.E-coa­lesc­ifying di: di:se
6.E-dele­tioning di: di:s
7.GVS [day] [days]

The derivation begins with the proposed underlying forms /die/ and /die-s/, following O’Moarfz’s analysis in which the English plural -s is underlyingly /-s/.

The first rule to apply is an independently motivated S-hardening rule, which turns /s/ into a palatal stop /c/ at the end of a word:

  1. s → c / _ #

This rule applies to all English words that underlyingly have final /s/: bus, cactus, bliss, and so on. This is a non-structure-preserving rule of English, because /c/ is not a phoneme of English. Because /c/ is not a phoneme of English, a redundancy rule late in the derivation turns final /c/ back into /s/, as we see in the surface forms of bus [bʌs], cactus [kæktəs], bliss [blɪs], and so on.

The second rule is an independently motivated rule metathesizing sequences of {c, r} preceded by /e/ at a word boundary:

  1. e
    {c, r}
    / _ #

    →   2   1

This rule appears in British English words of the form centre ‘center’, theatre ‘theater’, and so on, as they are derived synchronically from the American English forms in -er. The eagle-eyed reader will notice that the -re forms are in fact historically original, as inheritances from Latin centrum, theatrum; the British English situation thus represents an important example of rule inversion.

The third rule is an independently motivated process of Middle English Open Syllable Lengthening, which lengthens (Lengthening) all vowels in open syllables (Open Syllable) in Middle English (Middle English):

  1. V → V: / _ $

This rule explains, for example, the pronunciation of the name of the Irish political party Fine Gael. Although the name suggests the rule was specific to Middle English, one might speculate as to whether the process is a more general part of humanity’s genetic endowment for languageor perhaps even grounded in deeper principles of neuronal organization or physical laws.

The fourth rule is an independently motivated rule of C-softenment, wherefore /c/ gains a [+soft] feature and becomes /s/ before a following non-pharyngealized non-nasal front vowel:

  1. c → s / _ [+front, -phar, -nas]

This rule is independently needed to explain the [s] that appears in the related word dicey.

The fifth rule is an independently motivated rule of E-coalescifying, wherehence the sequence /ie/ becomes a long monophthong /i:/ unconditionally:

  1. ie → i:

This rule is needed to explain the monophthongalized quality of the vowels in English words such as thief and niece, as well as the surname of the German-born California entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel. The rule could alternatively be viewed as an assimilation of the second vowel, /e/, to the first vowel, /i/. Which of these grammars the child will select is guided by properties of his or her innate evaluation metric.

The sixth rule is an independently motivated rule of E-deletioning, where E deletions after the sequence /di:s/:

  1. e → *poof! gone* / di:s _

This rule is motivated by the need to account for the loss of e in the word dice.

The seventh rule is the Great Vowel Shift, which (amid a ton of other things, believe me, the stories I could tell) turns an underlying high front monophthong into the diphthong [ay]:

  1. i: → [ay]

This rule is needed to account for the historical record of 15th- and 16th-century England, in which a sound change called the Great Vowel Shift turned an original high front monophthong into the diphthong [ay].

This concludes my short note on the derivation of the English word dice ‘dice’. O’Moarfz’s analysis of the English plural in -s as having an underlying form /-s/ holds water, but with need for a significant endetailment of the synchronic derivation of the two surface forms. I have provided theoretical, epistemological and biocellular evidence for a derivation of dice ‘dice’ in which the phonemic representation closely matches the orthography, as is independently expected based on parallels from elsewhere in the phonology of English.

Be a Linguistics SurvivorOut-Think. Out-Publish. ... Out Cold.J. Probst and X. Pedition Robinson
The SpecGram Linguistic Advice Collective
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