LINGUIST List 14.2944

Wed Oct 29 2003

Sum: Phonotactic Constraints in English

Editor for this issue: Steve Moran <>


  1. Natalia Modjeska, Phonotactic constraints in English

Message 1: Phonotactic constraints in English

Date: Tue, 28 Oct 2003 21:58:51 +0000
From: Natalia Modjeska <>
Subject: Phonotactic constraints in English

Dear colleagues,

Thank you to all of you who responded to my query (Linguist 14.2804)
about phonotactic constraints in English. Below is a summary of
responses and names and affiliations of people who responded to my

Best regards,

Natalia N. Modjeska


The list includes a wide range of references, from introductory texts
to journal articles and a PhD dissertation.

1. Finegan, Edward. (1999). Language: Its Structure and Use (Third
Edition). New York: Harcourt Brace Publishers. (Section ''Phonotactic
Constraints'', pp. 123-124, 133-135)

2. Fromkin, Victoria & Rodman, Robert. (1998). Introduction to
Linguistics (Sixth Edition) New York: Harcourt Brace
Publishers. (Section ''Sequential Constraints'', pp. 269-271)

3. Davenport, Mike & Hannahs, S. J. (1998). Introduction to Phonetics
and Phonology. London: Arnold (Section ''The Aims of Analysis'',
pp. 154-156)

4. Carr, Philip. (1993). Phonology. London: Macmillan. (Sections
''The Organisation of the Grammar'', p.105, and ''Representations
Reconsidered (i): Phonological Structure Above the Level of the
Segment'', pp. 193-197)

5. Roca, Iggy, and Wyn Johnson. 1999 [corrected reprint, 2000]. A
course in phonology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. (This is a good
introductory book; it also has ample references to the primary
literature in the final chapter.)

6. Mark Hammond's The Phonology of English (Oxford 1999). (Herb
Stahlke's comment: ''While I won't claim that it's complete, it offers
a very thorough treatment of English phonotactics in an OT
framework. He makes the usual oversights, though, on retroflex
assimilation, claiming, along with many others, that in
sibilant-initial clusters /s/ occurs before stops, nasals, liquids,
and glides, but /S/ before /r/. In fact, before /r/, at least in most
of American English, /s/ simply assimilates in retroflexion as a case
of the broader retroflex assimilation of alveolars before /r/. So we
have retroflexed alveolars in ['d.r.INk], ['t.r.Ik], ['s.r.INk],
['gr.os.r.i] (along with ['gr.osr.i]), ['nRs.r.i], and
['t.<h>r.Ez.r.i]. He treats all of these as simple alveolars, which
means merely that he's missing an assimilation, except in the
''shrink'' cases, where he has the wrong consonant. Other than this,
his corpus-based analysis is pretty thorough on phonotactics.'')

7. Whorf, B. (1956). Language, thought, and reality. Cambridge, MA:
Technology Press of MIT, pp. 220-232.

8. T.A. Hall. 2002. Against extrasyllabic consonants in German and
English. Phonology 19:1. 33-75.

9. Argenis A. Zapata's study sheet for her phonetics students (it was
sent to me as a PDF attachment). The sheet contained information about
English and Spanish syllable structure and phonotactic constraints in
both languages. Please contact Argenis if you would like a copy.

9. Anja Beltz's PhD thesis. Here's an overview in her own words: ''The
question of what is a _complete_ set of phonotactic constraints is not
an entirely trivial one: too many, and you may exclude perfectly
reasonable words that happen not to exist in a language at a
particular time (often called accidental gaps); too few, and you may
include words that don't exist for very good reasons (systematic

The aim for a phonotactic model is to cover all accidental gaps and to
exclude all systematic gaps, but of course there is no general
agreement about where the dividing line between them lies.

I argued in my thesis that many approaches overgeneralise severely
(i.e. include far too many systematic gaps), and that part of the
reason for this is the notion of a single syllable class. I proposed
the multi-syllable approach as an alternative that reduces this kind
of overgeneralisation.

For more on overgeneralisation and multi-syllable phonotactics see
Section 2.4.2:

For an application of the fully automatic method to construct a
phonotactic model (which can then be used to parse and to generate
words) see Section 5.2 (English, German and Dutch):''


1. Phonotactics-related links on Karen Steffen Chung's web site,
including a pointer to the Phonetics list with 600 subscribers:

2. An online searchable pronunciation dictionary (RP):


Mark Chamberlin expressed interest in designing a list of phonotactic
constraints for English and other languages, with the goal to refine
Speech-To-Text programs. If you are interested in STT, please contact
Mark directly (email below).


(If a contributor's email signature contained his/her email address, I
am passing it along. Otherwise, please google him/her.)
Karen Steffen Chung, National Taiwan University
Peter T. Daniels (
Mark Chamberlini (,
Anja Belz, ITRI, University of Brighton
Ciler Hatipoglu
Herb Stahlke, Ball State University
Jeff Coady, University of Wisconsin
Katalin Balogne Berces, Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest, Hungary
Adam Werle, Univeristy of Massachusetts, Amherst

Argenis A. Zapata, University of The Andes, M�rida, Venezuela

Subject-Language: English; Code: ENG 
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