The emergence of the concept of 'morphologically conditioned sound changes'

  • Marc Pierce


One of the more controversial ideas in historical linguistics in the 1960s and 1970s was that of 'morphologically conditioned sound changes.' While Neogrammarians like Paul (1920) and Structuralists like Bloomfield (1933) had argued that sound change was exclusively conditioned by phonetic/phonological factors, some generativists (e.g. Postal 1968) rejected this claim in favor of the idea that sound change could also be morphologically conditioned. While the idea of 'morphologically conditioned sound changes' clearly resonated with many historical linguists at the time (e.g. King 1969 endorses the idea), others, like Jasanoff (1971), rejected it. More recent work on historical linguistics, e.g. Sihler (2000) and Campbell (2013), has also moved away from this idea somewhat. In this paper, I situate this idea within the history of historical linguistics in the 1960s and 1970s, focusing on generative approaches to historical linguistics. The development of the idea of morphologically conditioned sound change can be traced a number of currents in the field. Among others, it reflects (1) the increasing emphasis within phonological theory on rules over representations and (2) the intellectual heritage of the scholars involved.