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Chinese Syllable Structure  

Jisheng Zhang

Chinese is generally considered a monosyllabic language in that one Chinese character corresponds to one syllable and vice versa, and most characters can be used as free morphemes, although there is a tendency for words to be disyllabic. On the one hand, the syllable structure of Chinese is simple, as far as permissible sequences of segments are concerned. On the other hand, complexities arise when the status of the prenuclear glide is concerned and with respect to the phonotactic constraints between the segments. The syllabic affiliation of the prenuclear glide in the maximal CGVX Chinese syllable structure has long been a controversial issue. Traditional Chinese phonology divides the syllable into shengmu (C) and yunmu, the latter consisting of medial (G), nucleus (V), and coda (X), which is either a high vowel (i/u) or a nasal (n/ŋ). This is known as the sheng-yun model, which translates to initial-final in English (IF in short). The traditional Chinese IF syllable model differs from the onset-rhyme (OR) syllable structure model in several aspects. In the former, the initial consists only of one consonant, excluding the glide, and the final—that is, everything after the initial consonant—is not the poetic rhyming unit which excludes the prenuclear glide; whereas in the latter, the onset includes a glide and the rhyme–that is, everything after the onset—is the poetic rhyming unit. The Chinese traditional IF syllable model is problematic in itself. First, the final is ternary branching, which is not compatible with the binary principle in contemporary linguistics. Second, the nucleus+coda, as the poetic rhyming unit, is not structured as a constituent. Accordingly, the question arises of whether Chinese syllables can be analyzed in the OR model. Many attempts have been made to analyze the Chinese prenuclear glide in the light of current phonological theories, particularly in the OR model, based on phonetic and phonological data on Chinese. Some such studies have proposed that the prenuclear glide occupies the second position in the onset. Others have proposed that the glide is part of the nucleus. Yet, others regard the glide as a secondary articulation of the onset consonant, while still others think of the glide as an independent branch directly linking to the syllable node. Also, some have proposed an IF model with initial for shengmu and final for yunmu, which binarily branches into G(lide) and R(hyme), consisting of N(ucleus) and C(oda). What is more, some have put forward a universal X-bar model of the syllable to replace the OR model, based on a syntactic X-bar structure. So far, there has been no authoritative finding that has conclusively decided the Chinese syllable structure. Moreover, the syllable is the cross-linguistic domain for phonotactics . The number of syllables in Chinese is very much smaller than that in many other languages mainly because of the complicated phonotactics of the language, which strictly govern the segmental relations within CGVX. In the X-bar syllable structure, the Chinese phonotactic constraints which configure segmental relations in the syllable domain mirror the theta rules which capture the configurational relations between specifier and head and head and complement in syntax. On the whole, analysis of the complexities of the Chinese syllable will shed light on the cross-linguistic representation of syllable structure, making a significant contribution to phonological typology in general.


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.


Morphology and Phonotactics  

Maria Gouskova

Phonotactics is the study of restrictions on possible sound sequences in a language. In any language, some phonotactic constraints can be stated without reference to morphology, but many of the more nuanced phonotactic generalizations do make use of morphosyntactic and lexical information. At the most basic level, many languages mark edges of words in some phonological way. Different phonotactic constraints hold of sounds that belong to the same morpheme as opposed to sounds that are separated by a morpheme boundary. Different phonotactic constraints may apply to morphemes of different types (such as roots versus affixes). There are also correlations between phonotactic shapes and following certain morphosyntactic and phonological rules, which may correlate to syntactic category, declension class, or etymological origins. Approaches to the interaction between phonotactics and morphology address two questions: (1) how to account for rules that are sensitive to morpheme boundaries and structure and (2) determining the status of phonotactic constraints associated with only some morphemes. Theories differ as to how much morphological information phonology is allowed to access. In some theories of phonology, any reference to the specific identities or subclasses of morphemes would exclude a rule from the domain of phonology proper. These rules are either part of the morphology or are not given the status of a rule at all. Other theories allow the phonological grammar to refer to detailed morphological and lexical information. Depending on the theory, phonotactic differences between morphemes may receive direct explanations or be seen as the residue of historical change and not something that constitutes grammatical knowledge in the speaker’s mind.


Acquisition of L1 Phonology in the Romance Languages  

Yvan Rose, Laetitia Almeida, and Maria João Freitas

The field of study on the acquisition of phonological productive abilities by first-language learners in the Romance languages has been largely focused on three main languages: French, Portuguese, and Spanish, including various dialects of these languages spoken in Europe as well as in the Americas. In this article, we provide a comparative survey of this literature, with an emphasis on representational phonology. We also include in our discussion observations from the development of Catalan and Italian, and mention areas where these languages, as well as Romanian, another major Romance language, would provide welcome additions to our cross-linguistic comparisons. Together, the various studies we summarize reveal intricate patterns of development, in particular concerning the acquisition of consonants across different positions within the syllable, the word, and in relation to stress, documented from both monolingual and bilingual first-language learners can be found. The patterns observed across the different languages and dialects can generally be traced to formal properties of phone distributions, as entailed by mainstream theories of phonological representation, with variations also predicted by more functional aspects of speech, including phonetic factors and usage frequency. These results call for further empirical studies of phonological development, in particular concerning Romanian, in addition to Catalan and Italian, whose phonological and phonetic properties offer compelling grounds for the formulation and testing of models of phonology and phonological development.


Computational Phonology  

Jane Chandlee and Jeffrey Heinz

Computational phonology studies the nature of the computations necessary and sufficient for characterizing phonological knowledge. As a field it is informed by the theories of computation and phonology. The computational nature of phonological knowledge is important because at a fundamental level it is about the psychological nature of memory as it pertains to phonological knowledge. Different types of phonological knowledge can be characterized as computational problems, and the solutions to these problems reveal their computational nature. In contrast to syntactic knowledge, there is clear evidence that phonological knowledge is computationally bounded to the so-called regular classes of sets and relations. These classes have multiple mathematical characterizations in terms of logic, automata, and algebra with significant implications for the nature of memory. In fact, there is evidence that phonological knowledge is bounded by particular subregular classes, with more restrictive logical, automata-theoretic, and algebraic characterizations, and thus by weaker models of memory.