LINGUIST List 25.2944

Tue Jul 15 2014

Diss: Phonetics, Phonology, Typology: Sylak-Glassman: 'Deriving Natural Classes...'

Editor for this issue: Danuta Allen <>

Date: 15-Jul-2014
From: John Sylak-Glassman <>
Subject: Deriving Natural Classes: The Phonology and Typology of Post-Velar Consonants
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Institution: University of California, Berkeley
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2014

Author: John Christopher Sylak-Glassman

Dissertation Title: Deriving Natural Classes: The Phonology and Typology of Post-Velar Consonants

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Phonetics

Dissertation Director:
Sharon Inkelas
Darya Kavitskaya
Keith Johnson
Andrew Garrett

Dissertation Abstract:

In this dissertation, I propose a new method of deriving natural classes that is motivated by
the phonological patterning of post-velar consonants (uvulars, pharyngeals, epiglottals, and
glottals). These data come from a survey of the phonemic inventories, phonological
processes, and distributional constraints in 291 languages.
The post-velar consonants have been claimed to constitute an innate natural class, the
gutturals (McCarthy 1994). However, no single phonetic property has been shown to
characterize every post-velar consonant. Using data from P-base (Mielke 2008), I show that
the phonological patterning of the post-velar consonants is conditioned by the presence of a
pharyngeal consonant, and argue more generally that natural classes can be derived from
phonetic connections that link specific subsets of phonemes. Phonological entailments
(Burzio 2002a,b; Wayment 2009) are used to model these connections. Entailments are
derived from the co-occurrence of features within a single phoneme, and state that if one
element of representation (p) is present, then so is another (q). Entailments are central to
deriving natural classes, and function as a source of explanation for why phonemes are able
to pattern together.
Because natural classes are proposed to be derived rather than representationally specified,
I propose that formal representations are responsible for capturing phonemic contrast and
phonetic detail that is essential for accurately describing phonological processes and
distributional constraints. Following this proposal, I present a new formal representation of
the post-velar consonants. Traditional phonological features are associated with the
phoneme itself and are motivated by the phonemic contrasts discovered through the
typological survey. In addition, phonetic subfeatures are associated with language-specific
allophones of phonemes and are motivated by phonological processes that are influenced
by non-contrastive phonetic properties.
Natural classes are derived as feature classes (symbolized ʗ; Padgett 1995, 2002), which
are sets of feature bundles combined in a union relationship. Their composition is derived
using a new type of Optimality Theory constraint, ASSOCIATE(ʗi, p ↔ q), which uses
entailments to require the feature bundles represented by p and q to be present in a feature
class, ʗi. I argue that the entailments in these constraints establish a surface
correspondence relationship between the feature bundles that they require to be present,
and that regulating this correspondence relationship is key to determining the composition of
feature classes within a language. MAX-FFʗ requires feature bundles to be in
correspondence, which eliminates feature bundles that are not required by ASSOCIATE
constraints. DEP-FFʗ militates against feature bundles being in correspondence, and its
ranking with respect to the ASSOCIATE constraints determines which feature bundles are
included in a feature class. The feature bundles required by ASSOCIATE constraints ranked
above DEP-FFʗ are included in a feature class, while those that are required by ASSOCIATE
constraints ranked below DEP-FFʗ are not. The dissertation concludes by demonstrating
that this proposed system can derive natural classes composed of post-velar consonants,
including the guttural natural class in Arabic.

Page Updated: 15-Jul-2014