Intonational effects on the lexical specification of stress in Persian


3 to 4:30 p.m., April 26, 2024
In Persian — as in Turkish, Kurdish varieties, and several other areally related languages — even though word-final stress is the norm, there are notable sets of exceptions that have been puzzling to linguists. I focus on Persian, where almost all of these exceptional words are stress-initial. Crucially, the class of stress-initial words cannot be demarcated based on a single criterion related to phonological form or lexical category. Instead, I argue that the effect is lexical, but has a systematic explanation rooted in diachrony. The stress patterns specified in the lexicon for the lexical items are influenced by the larger phonological environments they frequently appear in. More specifically, the lexicon is shaped in a way that helps avoid the occurrence of tonal crowding at the right edge of Intonational Phrases (IPs).
Avoiding tonal crowding (the situation where two tonal targets are realized too close to each other) or phonetically repairing it is widespread across languages. Inspired by previous work on Chickasaw and English, I argue that a stress on the right edge of an IP in Persian is suboptimal because it places the high tone of the stressed syllable and the low tone associated with the end of the IP on the same tone-bearing unit. This makes stress-final words at the end of IPs undesirable. I then argue that the word classes that seem to avoid final stress are indeed those that typically appear at the end of IPs. The five major environments with stress-initiality, which I examine one by one, are prefixed verbs, interjections, vocatives, a group of DP modifiers, and words denoting mathematical operators.