Abigail C. Cohn, Margaret E. L. Renwick
March 12, 2021
We pursue the idea, implicit in much current phonological research, that understanding the multiple factors that shape speech production and perception is within the purview of phonology. In particular, increased access to naturalistic data has highlighted the multidimensional reality of variation in spoken language. At the same time, longstanding methods of doing phonology – including impressionistic analysis, and laboratory and experimental studies – remain crucial to understanding native speaker competence and grammar. We advocate for an expanded methodological toolbox in phonological analysis, using an iterative approach that crucially includes naturalistic corpus data. Integrating across multiple data sources offers fuller insight into the nature of the phonological system and native speaker-hearer ability. Several case studies highlight findings gained through linked, iterative studies, showing the importance of naturalistic data for a richer understanding of phonological phenomena, and leading us to reflect on desiderata for corpora to reveal speaker-specific patterns in fine phonetic detail and variability, which we argue are part of a speaker-hearer’s phonological competence. Phonological analysis that embraces the full spectrum of variation in spoken language data (from categorical to gradient, and systematic to sporadic) contributes to a deeper understanding of phonology in this richer sense.