Review of Phonological Augmentation in Prominent Positions
Date: Tue, 12 Jul 2005 13:22:48 -0700 (PDT)
From: Lev A Blumenfeld
Subject: Phonological Augmentation in Prominent Positions
AUTHOR: Smith, Jennifer
TITLE: Phonological Augmentation in Prominent Positions
SERIES: Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics
Lev A. Blumenfeld, Stanford University
Phonological Augmentation in Prominent Positions, a slightly revised
version of Jennifer Smith's 2002 UMass dissertation, addresses the role of
substantive pressures on formal phonological systems, focusing on the
behavior of prominent positions. The book's central claim is that
phonological grammars contain both an abstract, formal mechanism that
generates OT constraints from a limited set of primitive objects, and a
set of conditions, or filters, that arise from phonetic or
psycholinguistic factors. The job of these substantive filters is to
determine which constraints among all the formally possible ones may be
members of the universal constraint set, CON. Under this Schema/Filter
model of CON, substantive pressures affect grammars only indirectly, by
determining which constraints can in principle be active in a grammar, and
not by influencing actual phonologies of actual languages. Smith's
illustration of this proposal comes from a detailed investigation of
phonological augmentation in prominent positions.
In Chapter 1 Smith outlines the central issue addressed in the book, "the
question of how the phonology, a formal system that manipulates abstract,
formal objects, can nevertheless be shaped by substantive considerations"
(p.4). The chapter serves as an introduction of the Schema/Filter model of
OT phonology and the empirical domain of the book. Smith argues for
dividing prominent or strong positions into two types: phonetically and
psycholinguistically strong positions (henceforth ph-strong and ps-
strong). Augmentation of ph-strong positions serves to increase their
inherent perceptual salience, while augmentation of ps-strong positions
caters to processing pressures such as early-stage word recognition and
demarcation of word boundaries. Ph-strong positions discussed are the
stressed syllable, onset (or released) consonants, and long vowels. Ps-
strong positions are the initial syllable and the morphological root.
Markedness constraints relativized to both types of positions are subject
to a general substantive filter, the Prominence Condition; another filter,
the Segmental Contrast Condition, applies to constraints on ps-strong
The Prominence Condition requires augmentation constraints referring to
strong positions to call for perceptually prominent properties to be
present in those positions. The Segmental Contrast Condition further
restricts augmentation constraints referring to ps-strong positions by
prohibiting them from altering features that are important in early-stage
word recognition, unless the constraint's effect is to demarcate the left
edge of a word.
Smith presents phonological evidence for the notion 'strong position' and
compares two kinds of constraint schemas that can be used to analyze
augmentation effects: faithfulness constraints referring to weak positions
(F/wk) vs. markedness constraints referring to strong positions (M/str),
arguing for the latter on the grounds that strong, not weak positions,
tend to be more easily definable.
Chapter 2 presents the theoretical framework of the analysis of
augmentation processes. Building on the previous work of Eisner and Hayes,
Smith lays out the Schema/Filter model of CON. The theory contains a set
of primitives (features, correspondence relations, strong positions), a
set of constraint schemas (e.g. Ident, Align, the augmentation schema
C/str), and substantive filters on potential constraints.
Discussing the nature of ph-strong positions, Smith argues that the notion
is an abstract one, only indirectly related to phonetic detail such as the
presence of cues to contrasts. The argument for this claim, often repeated
elsewhere in the book, is that M/str augmentation constraints may have "no
relationship to the featural contrast for which the [strong] position has
special salient cues. Thus, the status of the stressed syllable as a
strong position is more abstract and general than the phonetic origin of
that privileged status" (p.32).
The notion of a ps-strong position is also abstract in some sense: while
psycholinguistic importance of phonological material tapers off gradually
from the initial syllable onward, phonologically it is only the initial
syllable that is privileged with respect to the others, without any
evidence of gradience.
The remainder of the chapter contains a detailed illustration of how the
Schema/Filter model applies to phonological augmentation. The Prominence
Condition requires that markedness constraints relativized to prominent
positions be augmentation constraints, i.e. call for the presence of
perceptually prominent properties. In other words, markedness constraints
can be relativized to prominent positions if they would make that position
even more prominent "by association with some perceptually salient
property" (p.44). So a constraint forcing stressed syllables to be heavy
passes this test, while a constraint banning mid vowels in the stressed
syllable does not. Smith's way of testing whether a given constraint
counts as an augmentation constraint relies on the substantive notion
of "perceptual prominence": if a candidate that satisfies the constraint
is more prominent than a similar one that does not, then the constraint is
an augmentation constraint. Perceptual prominence itself is grounded in
extragrammatical factors: "it may be appropriate to categorize one
stimulus as more perceptually prominent than another if the first stimulus
elicits a neural response of greatera magnitude than that elicited by the
Smith then discusses several constraints that qualify as augmentation
constraint by her criteria: HeavySyll, *Peak/X, Onset, *Onset/X,
HavePlace, H(igh)Tone, and HaveStress. Cross-classifying with the five
strong positions, Smith arrives at a list of constraints predicted to be
potentially active in a language.
Smith then moves on to ps-strong positions and the constraint filter
specific to them, the Segmental Contrast Condition. This filter prevents
augmentation constraints referring to strong positions from altering
features that are distinguished in early-stage word recognition. In
practice, this means that constraints neutralizing segmental contrasts are
not allowed to be relativized to psycholinguistically strong positions,
since it is segmental and not prosodic features that play a role in early-
stage word recognition. Interestingly, syllable quantity is 'segmental
enough' to be controlled by this condition, but stress is not. The
Segmental Contrast Condition has an important codicil: constraints are
exempt from it if they serve to demarcate the left edge of a constituent.
This clause allows Smith to account for constraints that call for word-
The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of Steriade's Licensing By
Cue theory (LBC) as a filter on positional faithfulness constraints. LBC
theory claims that the presence of cues to a feature in a given position
is responsible for the existence of a faithfulness constraint protecting
that feature in that position. Smith suggests that one can think of the
information about cues to contrast serves as a substantive filter on
positional faithfulness constraints. Smith argues that while it is the
case that positional faithfulness constraints relativized to ph-strong
positions are subject to LBC -- in other words, those constraints only
protect those features for which the position has special cues -- this is
not the case for ps-strong positions. For example, stressed syllable
faithfulness constraints are limited to vowel features, while initial
syllable faithfulness includes consonantal features as well. Smith
suggests that this difference can be accounted for by a substantive filter
on a free constraint construction mechanism.
Having laid the groundwork of the theory in the two opening chapters,
Smith moves onto a detailed investigation of augmentation phenomena.
Chapter 3 covers ps-strong positions and Chapter 4 ps-strong ones. Both
chapters compare the predicted set of augmentation constraints with
Chapter 3 opens with a discussion of augmentation constraint referring to
stressed syllables. Smith considers five augmentation constraints:
HeavySyll, HTone, *Peak/X (calling for high-sonority nuclei), Onset, and
*Onset/X (calling for low-sonority onsets). Relativized to stressed
syllables, each of these constraints, Smith claims, produces two kinds of
phonological patterns: augmentation of stressed syllables, and attraction
of stress to the augmented property in question. All ten patterns are
illustrated with actual examples.
Smith also looks at positional augmentation of long vowels and syllable
Chapter 4 moves on to ps-strong positions, the initial syllable and the
root, exemplifying the interactions with the constraints Onset and
*Onset/X. Relativized to the initial syllable, these constraints call for
the presence of word-initial onsets and low-sonority onsets, respectively.
Both patterns are attested. An interesting case is presented by Mongolian
and some other languages, where word-initial glides but not liquids are
allowed, in apparent contradiction to the predicted patterns. This problem
prompts a discussion of the differences between true onset glides and
nuclear onglides, which, Smith proposes, accounts for the aberrant
behavior of Mongolian.
Augmentation of the strong position 'Root' is exemplified with the
constraint HaveStressRoot. Smith also suggests that root minimality
effects may also be due to augmentation constraints, but leaves the
specifics for future research.
Chapter 4 moves on to a lengthy discussion of psycholinguistic evidence
behind the Segmental Contrast Condition, the filter specific to ps-strong
positions. Smith offers evidence showing a distinction between early- and
later-stage word recognition, and evidences supporting the relatively
greater importance for early-stage word recognition of segmental material
vs. prosodic information, roots vs. affixes, and initial vs. medial
segments. Smith concludes the chapter with an argument that what she has
been calling the 'initial syllable' is the first syllable of the
morphological rather than the prosodic word.
The final chapter of the book is dedicated to the relationship between
positional augmentation and positional neutralization. After presenting
several OT analyses of neutralization phenomena, Smith argues that they
are independent of the augmentation processes that had been the focus of
the preceding chapters. Two separate constraint families are required for
these two types of processes.
_Phonological augmentation_ lives up to its goal as an important
contribution to one of the most important recent debates in phonology on
the role of functional pressures in phonological systems. In part
functionalist and in part formalist, the book offers a well-presented,
thoroughly argued, and thought-provoking proposal that will prove to be an
important step toward an answer to this central question in phonological
Smith's exposition is detailed and precise. Perhaps, to make the argument
even more clear, the material on psycholinguistic evidence consigned to
the end of Chapter 4 could have been placed earlier in the volume.
Otherwise, the book is readable and easy to follow. Important points are
reinforced frequently throughout, the predictions of the theory are
clearly laid out, and the author's goals are always in the reader's sight.
I will now raise one substantive issue having to do with the role of
functional pressures in phonology, and two objections to Smith's proposal.
The central and most interesting aspect of Smith's proposal is the
indirect way in which substantive pressures shape phonological grammars.
Smith offers at least two explicit arguments for her position.
Augmentation of both ph- and ps-strong positions shows properties not
easily explicable in a more directly functionalist theory. First, the
stressed syllable, a ph-strong position, undergoes augmentation of
features not directly related to its phonetic prominence, showing that the
notion of 'prominent' is more abstract than the phonetic facts themselves
and that functional pressures must apply at a more abstract level. Second,
the initial syllable, a ps-strong position, is phonologically
categorically stronger than the rest of the word, even though
psycholinguistic importance tapers off gradually as one goes farther away
from the beginning of the word.
In addition to these two arguments, the typological survey in Chs. 3 and 4
gives an empirical argument, even if left implicit, that the substantive
pressures act at the level of constraint construction in CON rather than
at the level of individual grammars. Consider the Segmental Contrast
Condition: it rules out augmentation constraints relativized to ps-strong
positions that alter segmental features. This explains the absence of such
constraints as HeavySyllable and *Peak/X (calling for high-sonority
nuclei) relativized to the initial syllable. This predicts that there
should not be vowel lengthening or lowering in word-initial syllables
independently of stress. The functional explanation behind this fact is
that segmental contrasts, unlike prosodic ones, are important in early-
stage word recognition, and therefore neutralizing them would be
However, if this functional pressure were to exert is influence at the
level of individual phonologies rather than as a constraint filter, then
augmentation constraints relativized to ps-strong positions would be
unable to affect only those segmental features that are CONTRASTIVE in the
language. Allophonic features do not distinguish words from each other and
therefore are at least not as important as contrastive features in word
recognition. In other words, a more directly functional theory of
augmentation in ps-strong positions would predict that languages should
allow COMPLEMENTARY distribution of segmental features between ps-strong
and ps-weak positions. Such a language would have, for example, long
vowels in the initial syllable and short vowels elsewhere, due to the
constraint HeavySyllable/S1. Likewise, the constraints in the family
*Peak/X/S1, calling for high-sonority nuclei, could have their effect in a
language without contrastive mid vowels. Such a language would have mid
and high vowels in complementary distribution: the former in initial
syllables, the latter elsewhere.
Smith lists no such languages, and I also am not aware of examples of such
a distribution. If this pattern does not exist, then its absence lends
empirical support to Smith's hypothesis that functional pressures are
moderated by an abstract component of phonology such as the constraint
construction mechanism, rather than directly affecting actual phonologies.
Next I will point out what seem to be to be two shortcomings of Smith's
book. First, some of the proposals are vague enough that the reader is
unsure how to apply the reasoning to new cases. The notion that does much
explanatory work in Smith's theory is "perceptual salience". Knowing which
of two forms is more salient than the other allows one to decide what
counts as an augmentation constraint. This in turn is crucially important
for the Prominence Condition, the constraint filter that allows only
augmentation constraints to refer to prominent positions.
Smith grounds the notion of salience in neurophysiology: one stimulus is
more salient than another if it "elicits a neural response of greater
magnitude" (p.45). Smith admits that this proposal is a preliminary step
toward a more explicit and fleshed out criterion. As it stands, however,
it is not always clear how to apply the Prominence Condition to new cases.
Smith does not offer neurological or psycholinguistic evidence for the
categories she considers prominent, viz. the heavy syllable, high tone, or
relative position on the sonority scale (do liquid syllable nuclei elicit
a greater neural response than nasal ones?). She does provide a
psycholinguistic argument for Onset and *Onset/X constraints:
interspersing low-sonority consonants and high-sonority vowels allows the
perceptual system to more efficiently recover from adaptation, making both
the consonants and the vowels more perceptible. This argument, however,
could be used just as easily to support the constraint Coda, because the
perceptual system cares simply about alternating dissimilar segments, not
about syllable structure.
The fit between Smith's model and the observed data is very good: those
and only those features claimed to be salient turn out to participate in
augmentation processes. Given the looseness of the criterion for selecting
salient features, however, it would have been helpful to more
systematically consider features that are NOT salient and thus do not
gravitate toward prominent positions. In other words, the argument could
have been made stronger if Smith considered not only the positive side
(salient features that participate in augmentation), but also the negative
side (non-salient features that do not). Smith does mention some examples,
e.g. the absence of a constraint banning mid vowels in stressed syllables.
There are, though, less clear-cut cases which could have been discussed in
the book to help make the proposal more clear. What about aspiration and
glottalization? Is an aspirated consonant more perceptually salient than a
plain one? If not, what is behind the recurring pattern of attraction of
laryngeal features like aspiration to the onsets of stressed syllables?
Once again, these difficulties with Smith's proposal arise due to its
admittedly preliminary status.
I will raise one other substantive point. Smith shows that the general
classes of constraints predicted by her system are all attested in the
world's languages. It seems, however, that the typology is not as evenly
populated when we look at the constraints within each class. The *Peak/X
class, for example, calls for high-sonority syllable nuclei. Relativized
to the stressed syllable, it generates the familiar pattern of sonority-
driven stress. The same constraint relativized to the strong position Long
Vowel predicts a pattern of lowering of long vowels. Smith gives one
example (Yokuts) where long high vowels fall; she could have added here
languages like Nalik that have only one long vowel, and it is low.
However, far more frequent is the opposite pattern, often seen in chain
shifts: long vowels rise (cf. the English Great Vowel shift). Perhaps,
there is another explanation for long vowels rising, but if there are
separate functional accounts for two opposite patterns, what explanatory
power does either of them have?
Next, consider the Onset family of constraints. There are many examples of
languages where stress is repelled from onsetless syllables; these stress
systems are analyzed with the simple constraint Onset relativized to the
stressed syllable. The constraint family *Onset/X relativized to the
stressed syllable, however, is not very well supported typologically.
There is one example (Niuafo'ou) where stress is repelled from syllables
that begin with glides. In Pirahã, the voicing of the onset plays a role.
There are no examples where the cutoff on the sonority scale between
acceptable and unacceptable stressed syllable onsets occurs elsewhere,
e.g. between liquids and nasals, or between nasals and obstruents. This
typological sparseness of stress effects due to *Onset/X is not
necessarily an argument against Smith's proposal, but it appears to be a
significant fact in search of an explanation.
I hasten to add that despite the two objections that I raised, Smith's
book offers a stimulating argument for a particular view of phonological
theory, and will surely provoke much debate in the near future. It is
obligatory reading for phonologists interested in the interplay of formal
and functional explanations. The few and minor shortcomings of the book,
no doubt, are a sign of exciting future research.
A final note on the presentation of the book: The editors did not correct
egregious pagination problems around large tables, which often mislead the
reader that a chapter has ended (e.g. most of p. 77 is blank). Also,
shading in tableaux looks like second-generation photocopy. This is not
serious and would not have been worth mentioning except that the volume
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Lev Blumenfeld is a fourth-year graduate student in linguistics at
Stanford, specializing in word-level prosody and in metrics. He is
currently working on the interaction of prosodic structure and segmental
processes, and on the role of stress in Latin quantitative meters.