Final obstruent devoicing

Like the other languages we discuss in these pages, Catalan has asymmetries in the distribution of voiced and voiceless obstruents. In word-final position, only voiceless obstruents are possible. Figure (1) contains examples of stop-final words. (The sounds we are focusing on in (2) are transcribed between [ ]; otherwise, words in this section are spelled using the standard Catalan orthography.)

(1) Simple words ending in labial, alveolar, and velar stops.
Word final [p] àrab [aɾap] 'arab'
tap [tap] 'top, cap'
tub [tup] 'tube'
esclop [əsklop] 'clog (shoe)'
serp [seɾp] 'snake'
Word final [k] poc [pɔk] 'little/few'
nàufrag [naufɾak] 'castaway'
groc [gɾɔk] 'yellow'
pedagog [pəðəγok] 'teacher'
alberg [alβɛɾk] 'hostel'
Word final [t] pot [pɔt] 's/he can'
Madrid [mədɾit] 'Madrid'
əstret [estɾet] 'narrow'
càlid [kalit] 'warm'
cast [kast] 'chaste'

Note that [β ð γ] are allophones of /b d g/ respectively that occur in certain phonological contexts. In some of the examples above, we see these allophones occurring between vowels.

Although all of the words in (1) end in a voiceless stop, not all of these are voiceless when not in word-final positions. We illustrate this point with the words poc and groc. In (2), we see that the root poc always has a final [k], whatever its position. However, the voiceless [k] that appears word-finally in groc corresponds to voiced [γ], from /g/, before a vowel.

(2) Roots poc and groc in word-final and intervocalic contexts.
Word-final [k] poc [pɔk] 'a little, few (masc.)'
Medial [k] poca

'a little, few (fem.)'
'really few'
Word-final [k] groc [gɾɔk] 'yellow (masc.)'
Medial [g] groga

'yellow (fem.)'
'rather yellow'

The distribution of [k] and [γ] in (2) establish that there is a contrast between /k/ (in poc) and /g/ (in groc, given that [γ] is an allophone of /g/), and that this contrast is neutralized in final position, where both /k/ and /g/ have the voiceless allophone [k]. Many similar sets of examples can be found, not only for the velars, but also for stops at other places of articulation. For example, word-final [t] in càlid alternates with [d] before a vowel in càlidor, but word-final [t] in cast corresponds to [t] in related forms regardless of the phonological context (e.g. casta).

Looking further, the examples in (3) establish that a contrast between the voiced and voiceless affricates /ʧ/ and /ʤ/ is also neutralized in word-final position.

(3) Affricates
Word-final [ʧ] despatx [dəspaʧ] 'office, study'
Medial [ʧ] despatxar

'to finish, settle'
'little office'
Word-final [ʧ] mig [miʧ] 'half'
Medial [ʤ] mitjos [miʤus] 'half (masc. sing.)'

Recall from our discussion of Turkish that Turkish also has a process that devoices voiced obstruents in final position. Catalan differs from Turkish in two respects. First, in Turkishm devoicing occurs at the end of all syllables, not just word final ones. We will see in the next section that voicing in medial clusters in Catalan is a little more complex than this. The second difference concerns the sound classes that undergo devoicing. In Turkish, voiced stops and affricates, but not fricatives are affected by devoicing. In Catalan, fricative also undergo final devoicing. Examples appear in (4).

(4) Fricatives
mateix [məteʃ] 'same' (cf. xx)
boig [bɔʧ] 'mad' (cf. bogeria [buʒəriə] 'madness, folly')
guix [giʃ] 'plaster' (cf. )
ros [rɔs] 'blond (masc.)' (cf. )
fugaç [fuγas] 'fleeting' (cf. )

At the end of a word, as we see in the example boig, the alveopalatal fricative /ʒ/ surfaces as the voiceless affricate [ʧ].

The rule that accounts for the devoicing of word-final obstruents in Catalan can be written as in (5).

(5) Word-final obstruent voicing in Central Catalan.
[-sonorant,+voice] → [-voice] / ____ ] WORD

It is worth noting that the rule of final devoicing in (5) applies in all dialects of Catalan. Another question to ask would be whether this final voicing is productive (is synchronically active) in Catalan's sound system, or whether this rule was productive at one point in the history of the language but no longer applies. In fact, final devoicing is synchronically prtoductive. Evidence that this is so is found in recent loans from English and French, which display the effects of final devoicing. Examples appear in (6).

(6) Final devoicing in loan forms
bridge [bɾiʧ]
grog [gɾok]
pub [pap]
beige [beʧ]

Final Devoicing is only one of several voicing phenomena found in Catalan. In the next section, we discuss the distribution of [voice] in consonant clusters.

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