Backness switch in Russian 1

Jerzy Rubach a1
a1 University of Iowa and University of Warsaw


Russian exhibits several different types of palatalisation. These are exemplified in (1), where we look at voiceless stops and affricates.

(1) a. Velar Palatalisation (velars change into postalveolars): k[rightward arrow]c

ruk+a ‘hand (FEM NOM SG)’ −ruc+išc+a (AUG NOM SG), ruc+en’k+a (DIM NOM SG)

b. Affricate Palatalisation (affricates become postalveolar): ts[rightward arrow]c

konets ‘end’ −konc+i+t’ ‘to finish’

otets ‘father’ −otc+estv+o ‘patronymic’

c. Iotation (many disparate changes of consonants): t[rightward arrow]c

šut ‘joker’ −šuc+u ‘I joke’

d. Surface Palatalisation (consonants become [−back, +high]): t[rightward arrow]t

xvost ‘tail’ −xvost+ik [t’] (DIM), xvost+e [t’] LOC SG)

brat ‘brother’ −brat+j+a [t’] ‘brothers (COLL)’

coherent analysis of these disparate effects is a formidable task, but one process seems to be easy: Surface Palatalisation is a straightforward spreading change. This change is particularly simple in the context of i and j since not only the feature [−back] but also the feature [+high] is spread from the triggering context onto the input consonant. In the following, I will restrict the scope of analysis to this simple case. That is, I will look at Surface Palatalisation applying in the context of i and j. I will demonstrate that standard Optimality Theory (henceforth OT: Prince & Smolensky 1993, McCarthy & Prince 1995), with its insistence on parallel evaluation, cannot offer an adequate analysis of Surface Palatalisation. I will suggest that standard OT needs to be modified and to admit the possibility of a level distinction (a derivational step) in the evaluation of output forms.


1 I would like to thank Jill Beckman, Bill Idsardi, Cathie Ringen, Kit Wertz and the two anonymous reviewers of this journal for their discussion and criticism, which led to considerable improvement of both the content and the presentation of my analysis. However, let me add that the responsibility for this paper is solely mine. I am also very grateful to my Russian consultants: Tatyana Fedorkhina, Elena Kallestinova, Marina Kostina, Irina Patkanian, Olga Petrova and Anastasia Pryanikova.