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Formal and empirical issues in phonological typology

From the book Phonological Typology

  • Paul Kiparsky


The word level in the sense of Lexical Phonology and Stratal OT, here referred to as the l-phonemic level, is a linguistically significant level of representation, which captures what was right about the structural phonemic level without inheriting its well-known problems. It does so in virtue of encoding non-contrastive but distinctive as well as contrastive but non-distinctive phonological properties. I show that phonological systems which appear marginal or aberrant from the perspective of structural phonemics and generative phonological underlying representations are normalized at the l-phonemic level, and that certain phonological universals become exceptionless only at this level. Dramatic instances include putative vertical and one-vowel systems such as those of Arrernte and Kabardian, and apparently syllable-less languages such as Gokana. I further argue that “external evidence” from change, dispersion, poetic conventions, and language games supports l-phonemic representations rather than classical phonemic representations. The larger methodological point is that there are no theory-neutral grammars, and consequently no theory-neutral typology. In terms of Hyman’s (2008) distinction, there are no “descriptive” universals of language. All universals are “analytic”, and their validity often turns on a set of critical cases where different solutions can be and have been entertained. Therefore the search for better linguistic descriptions, more illuminating typologies, and stronger cross-linguistic generalizations and universals must go hand in hand.

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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