Abstractness or complexity?

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The purpose of this paper is to see if Hungarian /aː/, a well-behaved back vowel in terms of vowel harmony and of its phonological properties in general, is indeed a proper back vowel phonetically, too. Native speakers of this language (including some Hungarian linguists) have the impression that the vowel /aː/ is realised in present-day Hungarian more or less as a front vowel. However, there have been no reliable objective measurements to support or contradict that impression so far. In the present investigation it turns out that there is a historical change going on in Hungarian in the articulatory gesture of /aː/. The paper also offers some discussion as to whether that change in the phonetic makeup of this vowel should be reflected by its phonological analysis (feature composition). The dilemma we face is one between increased abstractness and increased complexity of analysis.


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