Author Archives: Ed Keer

Primacy of the base

This is a follow up to a quick comment I left in the Reading Group thread. I am not entirely up on the history of the field, so maybe these points are trivial. If so, excuse me.

I found the discussion of rule ordering in section 5 to be interesting. There seem to be a couple of issues that popped up with regard to rule ordering in the 1940s. One is historicity–how seriously are we going to take the time/motion metaphor? Another is the issue of primacy–if a, b, and c are derivable from one source, which one, if any, is primary? And a third is Harris’ claim that extrinsic rule ordering masks natural relationships between classes of derivations.

The first and last issues seem especially interesting after the Mr. Verb Kerfluffle. One of the things that was suggested there was that if you have rules, rule ordering is natural. Goldsmith shows that for some phonologists in the 1940s, rule ordering wasn’t a natural step at all. And it seems to me that a lot of phonology after SPE was concerned with addressing that last bit–making the rule ordering natural (there might be something about the Elsewhere Condition here, but I don’t feel qualified to talk about it).

What put me in mind of the richness of the base (RoB) was the middle part about primacy. RoB is the OT claim that the set of possible inputs to the grammar is universal, thus getting rid of the issue of primacy. In the hypothetical case of a, b, and c the grammar has to make sure that whatever the input /a/, /b/, /c/, etc., nothing maps to b in an environment where b is disallowed. Although RoB doesn’t rule out the use of archiphonemes (or underspecification) it does make them seem unneccesary since you can construct a grammar that will always map a and b to c in the appropriate context for example.

Internets anonymous

There are a few things that Eric and I disagree on, one of them being the merits of Rush–I mean, seriously Eric, how can you listen to that crap. Another thing we disagree on appears to be whether it’s OK to argue phonology anonymously on the internets. In the Opacity Kerfluffle chez Mr. Verb, Eric got miffed at Cassaday whatshisorhername for not coming out of the shadows:

I was apparently inappropriately offended at Cassaday’s combination of willingness to be just as nasty as I was and unwillingness to be identified.

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How many consonants?

I was thinking about how many distinct types of consonants there are and came up with a back-of-the-envelope figure of 300. The IPA has about 130 different consonant symbols and then there are some other diacritics and length to factor in, so I guess about 300. Of course that’s assuming that the IPA symbols line up with the actual diversty of consonants.

Has anyone tried a more rigorous quantification?

Survey: Important results in phonology

What do you think are the most important results in phonology? What have we learned and why is it important?

I spend a lot of time with non-academics and so I’m often pressed to explain what phonology is and why anyone should care. Beyond, “all knowledge is interesting” and vague statements about cognition or computer applications I sometimes have a hard time figuring out what to say. What are your thoughts?

Some thoughts on length

Here’s just some thoughts I’ve been mulling over on representing segment length. I’d love to get feedback. I’m a bit rusty since I haven’t really thought hard about phonology for a couple of years.

It seems that representational theories of segment length (two-root theory or moraic theory) are pretty good at addressing some basic properties of long segments. For example, in some cases length is preserved (compensatory lengthening) when the segment degeminates. That fact makes sense if the length is represented as double linking to a timing slot and degemination is simply unlinking to the extra slot, leaving it free to relink somewhere more hospitable.

But, an interesting issue with both two-root theory and moraic theory is that length really seems to be a binary distinction. Continue reading