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The Sonority Controversy

Edited by: Steve Parker

Sonority has a long and contentious history. It has often been invoked by linguists as an explanatory principle underlying various cross-linguistic phonotactic generalizations, especially within the domain of the syllable. However, many phonologists and phoneticians have expressed concerns about the adequacy of formal accounts based on sonority, including even doubts about the very existence of sonority itself.

To date, the topic of sonority has never been the focus of an entire book. Consequently, this is the first complete volume that explores diverging viewpoints about phonological phenomena rooted in sonority taken from numerous languages. All of the contributors are well-known and respected linguists who publish their research in leading academic outlets. Furthermore, each chapter in this collection contains new, cutting-edge results based on the latest trends in the field. Hence, no other extant piece of literature matches this volume in terms of its breadth and coverage of issues, all converging on the common theme of sonority.

Given the wide variety of subtopics in this collection, there is something to appeal to everyone — the list of contributions encompasses areas such as Optimality Theory, acquisition, computational modeling, acoustic phonetics, typology, syllable structure, speech perception, markedness, connectionism, psycholinguistics, and even MRI technology. What ties all of these issues together is a solid and consistent emphasis on sonority as a unified background phenomenon. Furthermore, a continuum of opinions about sonority is represented, ranging from complete acceptance and enthusiasm, on the one hand, to moderate skepticism on the other hand.

Author Information

Steve Parker is Assistant Professor at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics in Dallas, Texas.


"In phonological theory, sonority is crucial, perplexing, and controversial. Parker's book is the most comprehensive and detailed examination of sonority to date, and is without doubt a significant waypoint in understanding this crucial aspect of linguistic cognition."
Paul de Lacy of Rutgers University

"As a property that spans the entire gamut of speech sounds, sonority has been a key component in explanations of phonotactics and prosody. The papers in this volume explore sonority from a variety of perspectives (articulatory and acoustic phonetic, formal phonological, lexical statistical) and raise our understanding of this pervasive yet elusive feature to a new level."
Michael Kenstowicz of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

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Audience: Academic Linguists and Graduate Students of Linguistics.