Universals, Synchrony and Diachrony

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Published on October 17, 2008

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Phonology and language useby. Bybee,J.L : Phonology and language useby. Bybee,J.L Chapter 8: Universals, Synchrony and Diachrony Nanette Trujillo Rivera Universals and Explanation : Universals and Explanation Phonological Universal is a common tendency found in the phonological systems of many languages. Many theorists have assumed that certain commonly occurring properties of language are inherent to the language acquisitions device possessed by children (Chomsky). These features of language do not have to be acquired by children, but rather provide the framework around which language-specific structures are built. Bybee argues that the true universals of language are the dynamic mechanisms that cause language to change in certain systematic ways as it is used and as it is transmitted to new generations. Bybee’s Proposal : Bybee’s Proposal His propose for this chapter is that underlying synchronic crosslinguistic patterns are the dynamic mechanisms that cause language to change in certain systematic ways as a result of use. Slide 4: Mechanisms of change are processes that occur while language is being used, and these are the processes that create language structure. Example the reduction of articulatory gestures, the association of phonological material with lexical and morphological units, and others. Language is a self-organizing system, and grammar, including both morphosyntax and phonology, is an emergent property of that system (Lindblom) The cognitive and neuromotor capability of humans are the same across cultures and the uses to which language is put are similar across cultures, the structures emergent from this interaction will have very similar properties. Mechanisms of change are operative whenever language is being used. The changes do not require extra work, but are inherent to the system and the way it is used. Searching for Universals : Searching for Universals The issue of language universals is difficult because there appear to be so few absolute universals. In the domain of phonology we cannot move much beyond the statement that all languages utilize consonants and vowels. The most specific statement that we can make is that all languages have plain stop consonants¹ and low vowels. __________________________________________ ¹ This term refers to a set of stop consonants which have the same voicing or air stream mechanism. Slide 6: Jakobson and Greenberg in various works make extensive use of implicational universals-that is, statements that predict one feature in terms of another: if a language has X, it also has Y. Example: If a language has initial clusters of liquid-obstruent, then it also has initial clusters of obstruent-liquid. An implicational universal that holds over phonemic inventories is stated in Greenberg: If a language has phonemic nasal vowels, then it also has phonemic oral vowels. Naturalness Theory : Naturalness Theory Stampe’s Natural Phonology suggested an approach for this problem: children are born with an innate set of phonological rules, which must be suppressed in order for children to acquire the phonology of the language of their environment. Example: Vowels are non-nasal, and in order for children to learn nasal vowels, they must learn to suppress this rule. The naturalness theory (Dressler) proposes that there are a number of universal preference laws, some of them functional in nature, which are manifest in typological patterns as well as in child language. These preferences are sometimes in conflict. Such principles shape language and language acquisition, and that, while they are innate in the sense of being particular to human cognition, they are not literally a part of grammar. Optimality Theory : Optimality Theory This theory proposes that language is governed by a set of universal well-formedness limitations that are innate – ‘literally present in every language’. Some versions of Optimality Theory seem content with putting crosslinguistic generalizations directly into the innate language acquisitions device without offering any explanation for them (Prince and Smolensky). However, Hayes discusses the issue of how to incorporate the findings of phonetic research into phonological theory. Suggesting that children have direct access to their own production and perception apparatus and can make judgments about the relative difficulty of articulations and perceptual signals. Slide 9: How universals of language can be taken to be the result of patterns of language change? The Optimality Theory proposes a constraint designated as NO CODA to describe the open syllables exhibited cross-linguistically in both phonotactic patterns and in alternation. Bybee suggests that the appropriate universal is that the articulation of coda consonants involves gestures of lesser magnitude or duration than those found in syllable-initial consonants. Phoneme Inventories : Phoneme Inventories Lindblom Lindblom et al. (1984) proposed that phoneme inventories are emergent from the interaction of certain phonetic tendencies over time. Lindblom (1992) argues that rather than just assuming that languages have segments, it is necessary to explain why languages have structures that are conveniently describable as segments. Their view is that language is a self-organizing system, and that the phonetic signal evolves over time in such a way as to facilitate both production and perception. Production-based criteria : Production-based criteria The production based criteria used for the ranking of syllables are sensory discriminability and less extreme articulation. Sensory discriminability favors distinct speech sounds that are more distant in the sensory space over those that are located closer to one another. A set of sounds that are dental, alveolar, and retroflex is less favored than one that contains labials, alveolars, and velars. Less extreme articulation favors less extreme deviations from neutral position, choosing, for example, an alveolar over a retroflex and choosing sequences that require less movement. Perceptual Conditions : Perceptual Conditions There are two perceptual conditions: Perceptual distance – rank-orders all possible pairs of CV events in terms of their possibility for confusion. These one could lead to the elimination or change of syllables that are difficult to discriminate. Perceptual salience – measures the distance between the initial and final auditory spectra and favors the more salient of these transitions. These one has not been studied in connection with sound change. Two Main Mechanisms for Phonological Change : Two Main Mechanisms for Phonological Change If we could identify a few basic articulatory and perceptual mechanisms that govern all or most phonological processes and change. We would still have to ask why the phonological systems of the languages of the world differ from one another. At any given moment in time in any given language, these mechanisms have different material to work on. Example: ‘A’ in one language is dental, in another alveolar; in one language it might be aspirated with a long delay, and in another it might be unaspirated. Another factor to consider is that the phonetic details of a language are not universal but rather conventionalized for each language. Interaction of Mechanisms : Interaction of Mechanisms Markedness Literature Context-free and context-sensitive markedness – considered the natural in context, say, voicing in intervocalic stops (the opposite of the general tendency for stops to be voiceless). Complex or marked sounds – arise by the retiming and/or reduction of gestures. Overlap and reduction of gestures are nasalized vowels, palatal consonants and secondary articulations. Slide 15: Children acquiring their first language often make substitutions of one sound for another similar sound, usually replacing a more marked segment with a less marked one. Some substitutions that children make that do occur as sound changes are; the denasalization of nasal vowels and the unrounding of front rounded vowels, both of which are considered late acquisitions. Substitutions that persist into late stages of acquisition would be the ones that are most likely to have a permanent effect on the language. Syllable Structure : Syllable Structure Preference Laws Common crosslinguistic patterns of syllable structure are the product of characteristic patters of change. Many different sound changes contribute to preferred codas. Some examples are the loss of syllable-final consonants, as when Spanish syllable-final [s] weakens to [h] and then disappears (because a syllable coda with no consonants is preferred over one with a consonant); the deletion of English final [t] and [d] in words like and, hand, second. The occurrence of such changes creates crosslinguistic regularities in syllable structure. The implication is that languages change in order to be in accord with the preference laws. Paths of Change : Paths of Change It is possible to specify the particular changes that create this syllable structure. In Vennemann’s theory, preference laws are basic, and the particular changes are just means for achieving the preferred states. Bybee’s proposal states that there are universal paths of change for phonology, just as there are for morphosyntax. The path of change provide explanations for particular synchronic states. Slide 18: How the paths of change that affect syllable structure can be used to explain the range of possible synchronic states? Consider a language that has primarily words of the type CVCV. If this language is a stress language, one of the vowels in this word will begin to reduce, as a vowel reduction is extremely common in stress languages. The culmination of the vowel reductions is the vowel deletion which can create syllable-final consonant or consonant clusters: CVC or CCV. Paths of change are not innate. The mechanisms behind them might have some innate components, but these may not be specific to language. Even the mechanisms proposed to be universal in the sense that they are essential to human language need experience with language before they can begin to operate. The changes discussed occur in real time as language is used.

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