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The Linguistic Review

Editor-in-Chief: Hulst, Harry

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Universals in phonology

Larry M. Hyman

1University of California, Berkeley

Citation Information: The Linguistic Review. Volume 25, Issue 1-2, Pages 83–137, ISSN (Online) 1613-3676, ISSN (Print) 0167-6318, DOI: 10.1515/TLIR.2008.003, May 2008

Publication History

Published Online:


This article asks what is universal about phonological systems. Beginning with universals of segment inventories, a distinction is drawn between descriptive universals (where the effect of different theoretical frameworks is minimized) vs. analytic universals (which are specific-theory-dependent). Since there are few absolute universals such as “all languages have stops” and “all languages have at least two degrees of vowel height”, theory-driven or “architectural” universals concerning distinctive features and syllable structure are also considered. Although several near-universals are also mentioned, the existence of conflicting “universal tendencies” and contradictory resolutions naturally leads into questions concerning the status of markedness and synchronic explanation in phonology. While diachrony is best at accounting for typologically unusual and language-specific phonological properties, the absolute universals discussed in this study are clearly grounded in synchrony.

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