LINGUIST List 2.210

Thursday, 9 May 1991

Disc: Phonology and Orthography

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  1. Harry Bochner, Rules and generalizations
  2. Richard Ogden, orthography
  3. Lesli LaRocco, Orthography and Phonology

Message 1: Rules and generalizations

Date: Tue, 07 May 91 12:26:45 -0500
From: Harry Bochner <>
Subject: Rules and generalizations
Mike Hammond responds to my remarks on the unproductivity of -ity:
> I think it would be a mistake to incorporate this notion of
> productivity into our formal theory of morphology. Specifically, I
> think that determining what the "possible words" of a language are is
> a linguistic question and determining what the occurring words are
> is largely a nonlinguistic question, hinging on history, technology, etc.

Two responses, one morphological, the other more general:

1) A full discussion of the methodological issue of whether the theory of
Morphology should be concerned with 'possible words' would take us even
farther from the original topic of this thread: I'll try to stick to the
basics. Mike presumably thinks that *ridiculosity should be treated as a
'possible word', cf. Lieber(80). By this logic, **succinction is also
demonstrably a possible word, since -ion _does_ attach to adjectives in
a handful of cases (precision, distinction, etc.). Thus in a theory of
'possible words', **succinction, *ridiculosity and conclusiveness all have
the same status. I argue that this is emprically inadequate, and that an
adequate model of the grammar must contain the information that -ness is
productive, -ity is common but unproductive (except after -able, etc), and
that the attachment of -ion to adjectives is marginal (though possible).

Note that this does not mean that I'm interested in 'occurring words', in the
sense of a fixed corpus such as a dictionary, which would be subject to the
practical complications that Mike mentions. I'm interesting in what I call
'acceptable words': i.e. words that speakers accept. For instance, speakers
accept unfamiliar words in -ness (subject to complications like Blocking);
they do not generally accept unfamiliar words in -osity. I take this to
reflect a fact about the grammar; as I see it, such acceptability judgements
have the same status as grammaticality judgements in syntax, and it is
impossible to build an adequate theory without them.

2) Returning to the conception that there is a complete dichotomy between
'generated by rule' and 'completely idiosyncratic', I used a morphological
example because that's where I know the facts best, but the same point can be
made in other ways. 'Rules' that apply to single lexical items have been
proposed for semantics by Lieber(80) and Pesetsky(85). Something similar
might be needed for phonology: arguably the vowel alternation of say/says,
and the voicing of the fricative in American pronunciations of equation are
cases, although it depends on the details of the analysis. Any such
phenomenon where the analysis is forced to state a 'rule' that applies in
only one case, and thus is not a statement of a generalization, constitutes
a breakdown of the dichotomy as I understand it.

wrt John Coleman's remarks: The approach I would take to such alternations is
fairly different, but I certainly agree that we're dealing with regularities
that have to be stated in the grammar. It's worth emphasizing that I _do_
believe in rules, and in fact I believe these phenomena are rule-governed.
It's just that this means something rather different in a lexical theory than
it does in the SPE model, or any model that accepts the dichotomy I've been
arguing with Mike about.

-- Harry Bochner

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Message 2: orthography

Date: Wed, 8 May 91 13:51 GMT
From: Richard Ogden <>
Subject: orthography
Rick Woycik writes: If your phonological theory doesn't have much to say
about spelling, then it probably doesn't have much to say about phonology

Two points:
Phonology needn't have anything at all to say about spelling. It is there
as an abstraction from the phonetics - and the spoken language should
be the prime source of enquiry, not the written one. Which means good 
phonetic observation and ignoring spelling conventions etc. which can
hamper one's hearing and prejudice it.
The connection with spelling is by-the-by. Perhaps phonemics has something
to say about spelling but phonemics is certainly not the whole of 
phonology (despite the impression one might get from reading most 
books on phonology). Many linguists abandoned the phoneme long ago -
is Rick WOycik seriously saying that non-segmental, non-phonemic
phonological theories don't say much about phonology just because they
are independent of the writing system?

Richard Ogden
University of York
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Message 3: Orthography and Phonology

Date: Wed, 08 May 91 11:35:17 EDT
From: Lesli LaRocco <>
Subject: Orthography and Phonology
Rick Wojcik writes:
>If we accept that the prototypical alphabet is in one-to-one corespondence
>to phonemes...

It should be kept in mind that alphabets are often borrowed rather than created
by those who use them. Such is the case with some of the earliest forms
of writing we have, i.e. Akkadian, who borrowed their syllabic cuneiform
from speakers of Sumerian, a sui generis language. The Hebrew alphabet also
was derived from the Aramaic, and Greek from Phoenecian. Often, changes were
not made to these syllabic or alphabetic system, e.g. Hebrew has one letter for
both /sh/ and /s/. In short, I think that the term "prototypical alphabet"
might be misleading, and a one-to-one correspondence unlikely in the event of
borrowing, and unlikely except within a very narrow range of speakers even
in the event of a created alphabet.
[End Linguist List, Vol. 2, No. 210]
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