This paper applies the notion of probability and the concepts of entropy and surprisal, as defined in Information-theoretic terms, to the well-known case of sibilant dissimilation in medieval Spanish. Such concepts reveal themselves as crucial in order to understand the dissimilatory changes in question by explaining them as a resolution of the phonetic uncertainty and ambiguity that characterized the sibilant consonants prior to dissimilation. It is argued that the contrast enhancement resulting from this change not only contributes to the effectiveness in conveying information, but also results from the instability of low-frequency sounds.
Selected Proceedings of the 15th Hispanic Linguistics Symposium
edited by Chad Howe, Sarah E. Blackwell, and Margaret Lubbers Quesada
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