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Articulatory Phonetics  

Marie K. Huffman

Articulatory phonetics is concerned with the physical mechanisms involved in producing spoken language. A fundamental goal of articulatory phonetics is to relate linguistic representations to articulator movements in real time and the consequent acoustic output that makes speech a medium for information transfer. Understanding the overall process requires an appreciation of the aerodynamic conditions necessary for sound production and the way that the various parts of the chest, neck, and head are used to produce speech. One descriptive goal of articulatory phonetics is the efficient and consistent description of the key articulatory properties that distinguish sounds used contrastively in language. There is fairly strong consensus in the field about the inventory of terms needed to achieve this goal. Despite this common, segmental, perspective, speech production is essentially dynamic in nature. Much remains to be learned about how the articulators are coordinated for production of individual sounds and how they are coordinated to produce sounds in sequence. Cutting across all of these issues is the broader question of which aspects of speech production are due to properties of the physical mechanism and which are the result of the nature of linguistic representations. A diversity of approaches is used to try to tease apart the physical and the linguistic contributions to the articulatory fabric of speech sounds in the world’s languages. A variety of instrumental techniques are currently available, and improvement in safe methods of tracking articulators in real time promises to soon bring major advances in our understanding of how speech is produced.


Frequency Effects in Grammar  

Holger Diessel and Martin Hilpert

Until recently, theoretical linguists have paid little attention to the frequency of linguistic elements in grammar and grammatical development. It is a standard assumption of (most) grammatical theories that the study of grammar (or competence) must be separated from the study of language use (or performance). However, this view of language has been called into question by various strands of research that have emphasized the importance of frequency for the analysis of linguistic structure. In this research, linguistic structure is often characterized as an emergent phenomenon shaped by general cognitive processes such as analogy, categorization, and automatization, which are crucially influenced by frequency of occurrence. There are many different ways in which frequency affects the processing and development of linguistic structure. Historical linguists have shown that frequent strings of linguistic elements are prone to undergo phonetic reduction and coalescence, and that frequent expressions and constructions are more resistant to structure mapping and analogical leveling than infrequent ones. Cognitive linguists have argued that the organization of constituent structure and embedding is based on the language users’ experience with linguistic sequences, and that the productivity of grammatical schemas or rules is determined by the combined effect of frequency and similarity. Child language researchers have demonstrated that frequency of occurrence plays an important role in the segmentation of the speech stream and the acquisition of syntactic categories, and that the statistical properties of the ambient language are much more regular than commonly assumed. And finally, psycholinguists have shown that structural ambiguities in sentence processing can often be resolved by lexical and structural frequencies, and that speakers’ choices between alternative constructions in language production are related to their experience with particular linguistic forms and meanings. Taken together, this research suggests that our knowledge of grammar is grounded in experience.


Theoretical Phonology  

Paul de Lacy

Phonology has both a taxonomic/descriptive and cognitive meaning. In the taxonomic/descriptive context, it refers to speech sound systems. As a cognitive term, it refers to a part of the brain’s ability to produce and perceive speech sounds. This article focuses on research in the cognitive domain. The brain does not simply record speech sounds and “play them back.” It abstracts over speech sounds, and transforms the abstractions in nontrivial ways. Phonological cognition is about what those abstractions are, and how they are transformed in perception and production. There are many theories about phonological cognition. Some theories see it as the result of domain-general mechanisms, such as analogy over a Lexicon. Other theories locate it in an encapsulated module that is genetically specified, and has innate propositional content. In production, this module takes as its input phonological material from a Lexicon, and refers to syntactic and morphological structure in producing an output, which involves nontrivial transformation. In some theories, the output is instructions for articulator movement, which result in speech sounds; in other theories, the output goes to the Phonetic module. In perception, a continuous acoustic signal is mapped onto a phonetic representation, which is then mapped onto underlying forms via the Phonological module, which are then matched to lexical entries. Exactly which empirical phenomena phonological cognition is responsible for depends on the theory. At one extreme, it accounts for all human speech sound patterns and realization. At the other extreme, it is little more than a way of abstracting over speech sounds. In the most popular Generative conception, it explains some sound patterns, with other modules (e.g., the Lexicon and Phonetic module) accounting for others. There are many types of patterns, with names such as “assimilation,” “deletion,” and “neutralization”—a great deal of phonological research focuses on determining which patterns there are, which aspects are universal and which are language-particular, and whether/how phonological cognition is responsible for them. Phonological computation connects with other cognitive structures. In the Generative T-model, the phonological module’s input includes morphs of Lexical items along with at least some morphological and syntactic structure; the output is sent to either a Phonetic module, or directly to the neuro-motor interface, resulting in articulator movement. However, other theories propose that these modules’ computation proceeds in parallel, and that there is bidirectional communication between them. The study of phonological cognition is a young science, so many fundamental questions remain to be answered. There are currently many different theories, and theoretical diversity over the past few decades has increased rather than consolidated. In addition, new research methods have been developed and older ones have been refined, providing novel sources of evidence. Consequently, phonological research is both lively and challenging, and is likely to remain that way for some time to come.


Segmental Phonology, Phonotactics, and Syllable Structure in the Romance Languages  

Stephan Schmid

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article. From a typological perspective, the phoneme inventories of Romance languages are of medium size: For instance, most consonant systems contain between 20 and 23 phonemes. An innovation with respect to Latin is the appearance of palatal and palato-alveolar consonants such as /ɲ ʎ/ (Italian, Spanish, Portuguese), /ʃ ʒ/ (French, Portuguese), and /tʃ dʒ/ (Italian, Romanian); a few varieties (e.g., Romansh and a number of Italian dialects) also show the palatal stops /c ɟ/. Besides palatalization, a number of lenition processes (both sonorization and spirantization) have characterized the diachronic development of plosives in Western Romance languages (cf. the French word chèvre “goat” < lat. CĀPRA(M)). Diachronically, both sonorization and spirantization occurred in postvocalic position, where the latter can still be observed as an allophonic rule in present-day Spanish and Sardinian. Sonorization, on the other hand, occurs synchronically after nasals in many southern Italian dialects. The most fundamental change in the diachrony of the Romance vowel systems derives from the demise of contrastive Latin vowel quantity. However, some Raeto-Romance and northern Italo-Romance varieties have developed new quantity contrasts. Moreover, standard Italian displays allophonic vowel lengthening in open stressed syllables (e.g., /ˈka.ne/ “dog” → [ˈkaːne]. The stressed vowel systems of most Romance varieties contain either five phonemes (Spanish, Sardinian, Sicilian) or seven phonemes (Portuguese, Catalan, Italian, Romanian). Larger vowel inventories are typical of “northern Romance” and appear in dialects of Northern Italy as well as in Raeto- and Gallo-Romance languages. The most complex vowel system is found in standard French with its 16 vowel qualities, comprising the 3 rounded front vowels /y ø œ/ and the 4 nasal vowel phonemes /ɑ̃ ɔ̃ ɛ̃ œ̃/. Romance languages differ in their treatment of unstressed vowels. Whereas Spanish displays the same five vowels /i e a o u/ in both stressed and unstressed syllables (except for unstressed /u/ in word-final position), many southern Italian dialects have a considerably smaller inventory of unstressed vowels as opposed to their stressed vowels. The phonotactics of most Romance languages is strongly determined by their typological character as “syllable languages.” Indeed, the phonological word only plays a minor role as very few phonological rules or phonotactic constraints refer, for example, to the word-initial position (such as Italian consonant doubling or the distribution of rhotics in Ibero-Romance), or to the word-final position (such as obstruent devoicing in Raeto-Romance). Instead, a wide range of assimilation and lenition processes apply across word boundaries in French, Italian, and Spanish. In line with their fundamental typological nature, Romance languages tend to allow syllable structures of only moderate complexity. Inventories of syllable types are smaller than, for example, those of Germanic languages, and the segmental makeup of syllable constituents mostly follows universal preferences of sonority sequencing. Moreover, many Romance languages display a strong preference for open syllables as reflected in the token frequency of syllable types. Nevertheless, antagonistic forces aiming at profiling the prominence of stressed syllables are visible in several Romance languages as well. Within the Ibero- Romance domain, more complex syllable structures and vowel reduction processes are found in the periphery, that is, in Catalan and Portuguese. Similarly, northern Italian and Raeto-Romance dialects have experienced apocope and/or syncope of unstressed vowels, yielding marked syllable structures in terms of both constituent complexity and sonority sequencing.