LINGUIST List 8.820

Tue Jun 3 1997

Disc: Functionalism

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Richard Wojcik, Disc: Functionalism 8.798

Message 1: Disc: Functionalism 8.798

Date: Sat, 31 May 1997 09:41:32 -0700
From: Richard Wojcik <>
Subject: Disc: Functionalism 8.798

This is in response to Benji Wald's comments on (8.736, Disc)

I fear that we may be talking a little at cross-purposes here. My
main interest is in clarifying the position of Natural Phonology on
the issue of so-called contradictory processes. Benji seems a little
more focused on the question of what it means to call something a
"cluster" in phonetic terms.

 <deleted: elaboration on the nature of phonetic clusters,
particularly [pt]>

> >The question, if I remember correctly,
> >was why speakers should be able to pronounce the reduced [pt]
> >if they couldn't pronounce the unreduced one.
> In view of what I have said above, I understand that the phonological
> processes involved are not consciously controllable, and that reduction (or
> whatever?) of the first vowel in "potato" reflects a process which normally
> occurs when speech is NOT deliberate or conscious, but when it is
> relatively spontaneous. So we're dealing with unconscious stylistic
> effects, in my view.

I can agree with you here. This is yet another reason for believing
that the fast speech reduction of [pt] to [pt] (or whatever) poses no
problem at all for Natural Phonological theory. The fortition that
breaks up a controlled attempt to pronounce initial [pt] would not
necessarily have to apply to what is loosely described as "[pt]"
(i.e. reduced [pt]) in fast speech.

> >> >The fact that you can't pronounce the cluster in no way means that the
> >> >cluster is banned as a side-effect in the pronunciation of some other
> >> >phonetic target.
> That just goes along with what I just said, but sounds absurd because it
> does not explicitly acknowledge the difference between consciously
> controllable phonological processes, and unconscious, spontaneous, but
> nevertheless learned/acquired, processes. Am I missing that somehow the
> theory at issue does indeed account for this distinction? Does it even
> recognise it? Or, should it?

Yes on all counts. Thank you for clarifying that. Natural phonology
is a theory about pronounceability. That was part of Baudouin's
original vision when he founded modern phonological theory. It is no
longer necessarily part of the modern vision of what phonology is
about. Basically, Baudouin observed that phonetic alternations all
fell into just two types--those that involved phonetic variants of a
single "phoneme" and those that involved two distinct phonemes. As
Stampe has pointed out many times, the latter are consciously
manipulable. The former are quite unconscious and difficult to

By the way, it is interesting that later generations seem to have lost
their way, thanks due in no small part to Baudouin's influential
student Shcherba. It was Shcherba who seemed to have influenced the
concept of the phoneme among British (thence American) linguists.
Shcherba limited the phoneme to be just a perceptual unit, which
radically changed linguistic analyses of what was includable or
excludable from the study of phonology (i.e. phonemics at the time).
Trubetzkoy retained Baudouin's essential vision of the boundaries of
phonology, but he preferred a more "Scherbemic" conception of the
phoneme. So he had to have "archiphonemes" in his phonology, which he
still considered a separate branch of linguistic theory from
morphophonology. Sapir, who carried on a close correspondence with
Trubetzkoy, also retained this sharp distinction between phonology
(i.e. Stampean processes) and morphophonology (i.e. Stampean rules).
What ties all of these approaches together is that pronounceability is
fundamental to the concept of phonological theory (although Trubetzkoy
might not have explicitly agreed with this claim).

> (Self-conscious speech is indeed the suppression of some phonetic
> realisation rules, but depending on how deep your phonology --
> morphophonemics? -- is, it is NEVER the elimination of everything short of
> "deep" phonotactics, right? In fact, I ask: is self-conscious speech ever
> anything but the suppression of some realisation rules, i.e., does it ever
> *really* include the addition of a rule? That might be an interesting
> question for some theorists.)

There are some hidden assumptions in the above that make it difficult
to comment on, so I'll just tackle the one red flag that you raised
for me. A theory of phonology need not have any phonotactics, deep or
otherwise. Since generative theory is about well-formedness, it must
address such phenomena as part of the theory. However, Natural
Phonology just sees banned sequences of sounds as those which cannot
be directly (or intentionally) pronounced during normal speech.
Unpronounceability need not necessarily be attributable to a single
cause. Since you don't need to pronounce nonexistent phonetic
structures, you don't need to suppress any processes that affect them.
Hence, there can be multiple processes banning so-called
phonotactically impermissible sequences. Hence, no need for a single
generalization in your theory to ban such sequences.

> >Stampean theory predicts
> >that very early language learners will have both devoicing of
> >vowels between voiceless consonants and voicing of consonants between
> >vowels. (In fact, such processes do occur in L1 acquisition, but they
> >are not observed--may not even be manifested--in all learners. Having
> >them doesn't mean that they actually have to become dominant during
> >phonological acquisition. They do in some learners, but not all.)
> Again, are these established FACTS? Or are we just going to hear somebody
> say what they think they heard their little daughter say in the playpen or
> in the highchair the other day? This issue desrves SERIOUS study, and I
> would like to know what actual observations have been made, and what
> documentation exists for these "facts" admittedly crucial to this theory
> (and relevant to ANY other theory). The quote has so much hedging, I
> wonder if its evidence is distinguishable from grasping at straws.

I refer you to Stampe's writings on phonological acquisition,
particularly the 1973 published version of his dissertation. Much of
his early work was based on an explanation of longitudinal studies of
child speech. Indeed, there are plenty of studies on the subject, the
seminal one being Jakobson's "Child Language, Aphasia, and
Phonological Universals" monograph. What I'm not sure about is what
you will accept as "established fact". If you want spectrograms, then
I'm not sure that this body of literature is going to impress you
much. However, if you accept that body of literature as basically
accurate in how it recorded child phonetics, then you won't find many
linguists other than Stampe who can explain the recorded evolutionary

> >I know that Stampean theory is very different--quite strange to some
> >people. It requires one to treat acquisition as a kind of "loss" of
> >pre-existing rules.
> It's not strange to any theory based on a "universal grammar (include
> phonology)" approach. But what does a universal phonology claim about
> surface (presumably observable) phonetics?

Oops! Red flag again. :) Universal grammar is about the construction
of grammars, not behavioral systems. Stampean derivations are not
"grammatical" in the generative sense. For example, there are no
restrictions on what you can plug into a phonological derivation in NP
(no phonotactic conditions, remember?). You can try to pronounce any
phonetic target, so anything can be run through the "filter" that the
process system represents. That includes surface phonetics.
Presumably, that is how both children and adults acquire new
phonologies. They try to say things. Generative theory just tells
you what people think is legal. It doesn't have anything to say about
how people pronounce things. One can *speculate* about a connection
between the grammar and pronounceability, but there is nothing
inherent in generativism that makes you go there.

> > If markedness
> >theory were really correct, then why didn't the human race converge on
> >the same phonology ages ago? What keeps phonologies different if there
> >is some kind of gold standard that we all use to arrive at grammatical
> >analyses with?
> Good question. What's the answer?

I'm glad you enjoyed the question. I leave it up to proponents of
markedness theory to answer it. ;-) Natural phonology holds that no
such standard exists. There is no "universal grammar". Just a lot of
sometimes contradictory constraints on pronunceation that have to be
put in order by the language learners. Basically, phonology exists to
coordinate articulatory gestures during speech. (That explains a lot,
by the way. It explains Sapir's famous conundrum about the difference
between blowing out a candle and producing a speech sound.)
Acquisition is the act of coordinating your mouth to pass just those
phonetic structures that you need to get out.

> Natural Phonology simply takes the view that we put
> >naturally-occuring, but chaotic behavioral constraints, into some kind
> >of order, depending on what challenges the target language poses for
> >the articulators. What you do with contradictory processes depends on
> >what you have to say.
> Was that the answer? What are examples of "naturally-occurring, but
> chaotic behavioral constraints"?

Can I get away with just referring you to examples in the Donegan &
Stampe "The Study of Natural Phonology" paper? They do a pretty good
job of talking about contradictory processes in that work. By
"chaotic", I mean that the way in which processes interact during L1
is not predictable. It depends on what they child attempts to
pronounce. There need not be any single correct path to a properly
coordinated speech tract.

Rick Wojcik Bellevue, WA
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