LINGUIST List 3.483

Thu 11 Jun 1992

Disc: Natural Phonology

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  1. Joe Stemberger, Re: 3.470 Queries: Lx and Lit, Software, Nat. Phonology, SF
  2. Martti Arnold Nyman, Re: Natural Phonology

Message 1: Re: 3.470 Queries: Lx and Lit, Software, Nat. Phonology, SF

Date: Tue, 9 Jun 92 13:00 CDT
From: Joe Stemberger <>
Subject: Re: 3.470 Queries: Lx and Lit, Software, Nat. Phonology, SF

In 3.470, J.A. Given makes the following query about Natural Phonology:

<< Are there any psycholinguistics or developmental psychologists that
<<think natural phonology is interesting enough to apply it to studies
<<of the acquisition of language?

People who work on Child Phonology initially had a very positive reaction
to Natural Phonology, back in the early 1970's. It was one of the things
that helped phonological process analysis of child speech to become
prevalent. However, by the end of the 1970's, serious doubts about it had
been raised, and it isn't used very much today.

The main problem seems to be with the notion of Natural Process. There
seems to be an implication that there are processes that should be common
to all children. Stampe says that there are phonological items/sequences
that are hard to pronounce, and that the natural processes get the children
over these difficulties.

But there is very little uniformity across children in terms of the
processes that they use. There is a fair amount of uniformity in terms of
what children find difficult. For English-speaking kids, at least, we can
say that syllable-final consonants are difficult, that unstressed syllables
are difficult, that voicing in final obstruents is difficult. But children
seem to "solve" the same problem in different ways.

Consider final voiced obstruents. Some children devoice them. Some children
delete them (while not deleting final voiceless obstruents). Some children
prenasalize or postnasalize them (or, rarely, nasalize them completely).
Some children epenthesize vowels after them. Some (rare) children replace
them with a reduplicated syllable; e.g. PICK is [bik], but PIG is [bibi].
This list is probably not exhaustive.

The standard explanation for all the variability (a la Menn, or Macken, or
Ferguson, etc.) is that there are no innate ways of solving a particular
difficulty, and different children solve the same problem in different
ways. The child's actions have been described as highly "cognitive", by
which I THINK people have been implying the use of problem-solving skills
to come up with SOME process that makes the sound pronounceable for the
child. You'd expect that some children might come up with unique solutions,
and indeed the child phonology literature of the past 15 years has been
emphasizing the "quirkiness" of child phonological processes. This has been
interpreted as being incompatible with natural processes. I haven't seen
anything from the natural phonologists responding to this, and it would be
interesting to see what they think of it.

By the way, I don't want you to get the impression that all children have
problems with the same things. Things we think of as "difficult" are only
difficult statistically; some children have no problems with them at all.
Most children find velars difficult, but some children are "velar-lovers",
and may develop them before other places of articulation. In diary studies
of my two oldest children, I found that neither one was capable of
producing the contrast between (syllable-initial) lateral [l] vs.
glide [y]. The older child showed Gliding, producing both as [y]. The
younger child did the reverse, producing both as [l]. If there are natural
processes at work here, you need a whole lot of them, doing exactly
opposite things in many cases.

At any rate, child phonologists have mostly abandoned natural processes,
because the most straight-forward interpretation of them doesn't seem to
work very well. There may, however, be less obvious ways to think of them
that may work. If natural phonologists would like to get child phonologists
back into using them, they need to put forward more proposals.

---joe stemberger
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Message 2: Re: Natural Phonology

Date: Wed, 10 Jun 1992 03:11 EETRe: Natural Phonology
From: Martti Arnold Nyman <MANYMANFINUHA.bitnet>
Subject: Re: Natural Phonology

In Vol-3-470, J.A.Given <> asks about
Stampean natural phonology:

> I was delighted to read here that natural phonology still lives! I thought
> the (CLS Parasession on the Interplay of Phonology, Morphology and Syntax)
> effort by Donegan and Stampe to integrate phonology and syntax was
> rich with possibilities. Did natural phonology regroup after 1980's attacks
> by formalists (I have in mind, e.g. those attacks summarized in S.R. Anderson,
> "Phonology in the Twentieth Century", p. 345 ff. I would be grateful to
> learn of a recent summary of the status of that discussion (and that of
> natural phonology.)

I know Natural Phonology mainly through its integration in the (European)
Natural Morphology by Wolfgang Wurzel (see his book Inflectional Morphology
and Naturalness, pp.1-8. Dordrecht/Boston/London:Kluwer 1989); see also:
Wolfgang Dressler; Willi Mayerthaler; Oswald Panagl; & Wolfgang Wurzel:
Leitmotifs in Natural Morphology. Amsterdam: Benjamins 1987. Though
Wurzel is mildly (= constructively) critical of the Stampean approach,
its virtues stand out very clearly.
 I think a re-assessment of Natural Phonology would certainly be in order.
(And I wish David Stampe would spend part of his summer vacation for
such an aim too ...).
 Martti Nyman
 General Linguistics, University of Helsinki, Finland
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