Natural Phonology

New Old Paper

Posted in Uncategorized by Geoffrey Nathan on May 29, 2010

I am attempting to scan and convert old NP papers to usable format. Here is the first one, an old Stampe paper on diphthongs. I’ve proofread it pretty well, but the formatting is a little funky because I don’t understand completely how Word does footnotes. If anyone wants to fix it, please do so and let me know.

Removed for reformatting and reconsideration.


The Role of Rules in Speech Production and Perception

Posted in Linguistics, Phonology by rwojcik on March 3, 2009

Since speakers strive to produce grammatical speech, it follows that linguistic grammars are a key component of any theory of speech production.  In generative theory, the relationship between grammar and behavior is indirect.  Grammars describe well-formed structure, but the theoretical framework makes no explicit claim about how such knowledge interacts with speech production.  Natural Phonology entails a different theoretical approach, one that is grounded in linguistic performance.

Rules and Processes represent psychological strategies that directly govern speaker intentions.  Morphophonological Rules represent strategies that alter the string of phonetic targets–usually phonemes of a language–that the speaker intends to produce.  Words and morphemes are associated with strings of phonemes in memory.  So Rules make reference to morpheme boundaries.  They are lexical in nature.  They are fundamentally suppletive operations.  The Rule that replaces /f/ with /v/ in the formation of plural knives is essentially the same kind of mental operation that replaces /go+d/ with /wEnt/ in the formation of past tense went.  Inflectional Rules participate directly in the production of syntactically-grouped strings of morphemes and words, and Derivational Rules act directly in the formation of new words.  Rules also play a role in speech understanding, as they help listeners identify the words that they are listening for. Rules also interact with other strategies that alter strings of phonemes.  For example, secret languages or luding, which is an extragrammatical modification of linguistic performance.

Phonological Processes do not alter the morphologically grouped strings of sounds that comprise morphemes.  Rather they alter the articulatory gestures that a speaker ends up using in the production of a fixed string of phonetic segments.  Processes change the articulatory gestures that a speaker uses in producing prosodically-grouped strings.  Morpheme boundaries do not really exist at this level of production, although such boundaries can affect the prosodic grouping.  So the common noun singer lacks the [g] pronounced in the proper noun Singer, because the morpheme boundary affects the prosodic chunking.  That is, the obstruent cluster /ng/ is reduced at the ends of syllables, but not when there is an intervening syllable boundary.  The phenomenon can be seen in the ease with which some of us can flap the nd cluster in the past tense/participle handed, but not so easily in the adjective left-handed, which involves a different kind of morphological parsing.

So my point here has been to emphasize the fact that Rules, like processes, are performance strategies.  They govern the act of producing speech as well as perceiving it.  It is just that the psychological functions of Rules and Processes are entirely different.  The former operate on strings of phonemes grouped according to syntactic and lexical production, whereas the latter help to organize the rhythmic nature of articulatory production.

On the Ontology of Processes

Posted in Uncategorized by Rich Rhodes on February 25, 2009

Some twenty years ago, I gave a paper at Krems in which I argued that the processes we see active in particular languages (final devoicing in German and in Turkish, diphthongization in English vowels and in Vietnamese vowels, progressive nasalization in Tucanoan languages and in Ojibwe, etc.) are ontologically distinct from the generalized processes they are created out of.

I was reminded of this because an Australian colleague, who had asked for a copy of the (very brief) paper ten years ago, couldn’t get it to read properly because of the fonts and what not, and asked me for a new copy. I had to work through it myself, and noticed some things that needed updating and clarification. Here it is.

Natural Phonology: Universal and Language Specific

Richard A. Rhodes

University of California, Berkeley

As Stampe has consistently maintained (e.g. 1973), formalist approaches to phonological universals fall hopelessly short of the mark, and proposals to prop them up provide little further insight. A substantive theory is clearly needed. On the other hand, natural phonology has yet to fulfill its promise as a theory of substantive phonology. In this paper, I want to address a theoretical problem concerning the ontology of natural processes.

In emphasizing the distinction between learned rules and innate processes, natural phonologists have failed to recognize the distinction between the universal form of a process and the constrained implementations of processes which actually govern substitutions in individual languages. I will argue here that the universal forms of natural processes (NPs) are different from the language specific implementations (LSIs) that realize them in three ways: 1) in potential content, 2) in uniqueness, and 3) in status as process versus rule.

As an example of the way in which NPs differ from LSIs in potential content, let us look at the leniting NP which gives rise to nasalized vowels. This process substitutes nasal vowels for oral vowels adjacent to nasal segments. Based largely on Schourup’s work (1973), we characterize the universal form of this process as affecting low vowels before high vowels, unstressed vowels before stressed vowels, tautosyllablic vowels before vowels in adjacent syllables, etc. The formal representation of this process looks something like (1).

(1) Nasalization (Universal Process)


NPs like that in (1) arose to account for cross-linguistic facts. To achieve this generality, such processes are seen as having available a number of operators not generally held to be necessary in the apparatus needed to describe the phonological substitutions synchronically active in individual languages. Those in question include: 1) hierarchically structured environments, notated [!F]; 2) non-directional adjacency, notated with a % and delimited by | | ; 3) multiple independent dimensions of environments, here notated by multiple exclamation points. While LSIs access hierarchies, all they generally need from them is a tolerance point which is often expressible in a binary feature value. In the case of simple adjacency, no convincing case of a single LSI requiring adjacency is available. Similarly no case exists showing the need for multiple environments in a single LSI.

But in contrast to the complexity of universal processes, most LSIs are rather straightforward. For example the English LSI of (1) nasalizes vowels preceding tautosyllabic nasal segments.

(2) English Nasalization ( LSI)
[+nasal] /  ____ [+nasal](C).

Even where the data are more complex, the LSIs involved are not. Consider the pattern of allophonic nasalization in Eastern Ojibwa summarized in Table I.


In addition to the LSIs which yield the nasalized vowels in Table I, Ojibwa has rules of nasalization which we ignore here. Allophonic nasalization in Ojibwa is strictly progressive, as shown by the lack of nasalization in the last column of Table I, and it affects only long vowels. There are two degrees of nasalization indicated in Table I. The double tilde represents heavy nasalization. Rather than appealing to a complex environment to explain these facts, I would suggest that there are two LSIs of nasalization. These are given in (3). Note that it is the combined effect of the two that yields the heavy nasalization found on low vowels in initial syllables. This entails that the values of features must not be binary, a point which we cannot pursue here.

(3) Eastern Ojibwa Nasalization (LSIs)


Eastern Ojibwa nasalization also exemplifies the difference in uniqueness between NPs and LSIs. NPs are unique, there is only one of each, but an individual language can have several LSIs warranted by a single NP. In this case Eastern Ojibwa has two LSIs based on the NP in (1).

The final argument that NPs have a different ontology from LSIs is that there are a class of natural rules. Rules which have NPs lying behind them but which, because of the fact that the substitutions in question are always contrast must be rules. The two largest classes of such natural rules are vowel harmony rules, and vowel deletions.

Recognizing the ontological distinction between universal processes and LSIs leads to an understanding of, among other phenomena, so-called persistent rules, processes with mixed environments (e.g. fortitions with lenition environments), and processes with “unnatural” environments.

Persistent rules represent several different LSIs motivated by a single natural process.

Unnatural and mixed environments arise as part of limitations on LSIs which do not have a basis in the structured environment of the natural process which motivates the LSI in question. For example, there are a class of fortitions which restructure segments on the basis of their internal feature structure (née paradigmatic processes). One of the better known examples is the natural process which devoices obstruents. But the German LSI of this process is arbitrarily limited to syllable final position, normally a leniting environment:

(4) Obstruent
(German) [+obs] [-vd]/ ___ #

Finally there are LSIs which have “unnatural” environments. For example, Ohala (1987) argues that the universal process voicing consonants intervocalically operates on a hierarchy which voices labials before apicals before velars, directly motivated by the physics of voiced consonants. However, in the Algonquian language family, several languages voice velars before labials before apicals (Rhodes, forthcoming). In this case these languages simply have arbitrary limitations put on the LSIs motivated by the universal process of intervocalic voicing.

The theoretical implications of the fact that there is an ontological distinction between LSIs and universal processes include that it is not enough simply to add up, as it were, the characteristics of all attested phonological processes in as many languages as possible. Rather one must be ready to explore the possibility that some of the phonological characteristics of any given LSI may not have a direct motivation.


Ohala, J. (1983) “The origin of sound patterns in vocal tract constraints” The Production of Speech. edited by Peter F. MacNeilage. New York:
Springer-Verlag, 189-216.

Rhodes, R. (forthcoming) “Obstruent Voicing in Algonquian”

Schourup, Lawrence. (1973) “A cross-linguistic study of vowel nasalization.” Working Papers in Linguistics 15:190-221. Ohio State University.

Stampe, David. (1972) How I Spent My Summer Vacation. unpublished University of Chicago PhD dissertation.

———. (1973) ‘On Chapter 9.’ In M. Kenstowicz and C. Kisseberth, eds. Issues in Phonological Theory, 44-52. The Hague: Mouton & Co.

Hypotheses of Natural Phonology

Posted in Linguistics, Phonology by rwojcik on February 18, 2009

We are pleased to offer you the latest draft of Patricia Donegan and David Stampe’s “Hypotheses of Natural Phonology“, which was originally delivered in Poznan in September 2008.  The final version will appear in Poznan Studies in Contemporary Linguistics.  Those who wish to make private comments can email the authors.  Public comments can be made to this post.

Processes, Speech Impediments, Chewing Gum, and Phonological Intuitions

Posted in Linguistics, Phonology by rwojcik on February 18, 2009

In generative linguistics, a linguistic derivation is a method of calculating well-formedness.  Intuitions of linguistic well-formedness are basically what generativists set out to explain.  So it is very difficult for a generative linguist to understand Natural Phonology.  As I have already pointed out, the inputs to a Process derivation do not have to be well-formed.  They can be any string of phonetic targets imaginable.  Phonological Processes exist in infants well before they have intuitions of well-formedness, and infants simply could not learn to speak if it were Processes that defined grammatical intuitions.  How would they know what to try to pronounce?  Yet it is still a fact that Processes in adults play a big role in determining what we come to believe is phonologically well-formed.  So how does that come about?

Morphophonological Rules set up the inputs to Processes.  They are operations on strings of phonemes arranged in morphological chunks.  Processes are operations on articulatory targets that are arranged in rhythmic chunks.  Just as Rules apply to lexical units, Processes apply to prosodic units.  When I pronounce French poorly with my English accent, one of the reasons is that I don’t feel comfortable with syllable-timed articulation.  I am comfortable with articulatory chunks that are stress-timed, and I happen to like vowel reduction.  Subjectively speaking, that is one reason why I get along better with Russian, another language that invites vowel reduction, albeit of a different sort than English.  But I can mangle Russian pronunciation, too.  It is just that I am better at suppressing bad English habits when I speak Russian.  I learned Russian when I was still a teenager.  French came later.

Processes can be thought of as habits–psychological operations that overcome some articulatory difficulty.  They are also like speech impediments, especially during the acquisition of foreign pronunciation.  What we do with processes is the same in second language acquisition as in first language acquisition.  We struggle to suppress those that impede the pronunciations that we are striving to achieve.  The English-learning child who struggles to suppress obstruent devoicing of English voiced obstruents has the same problem as the adult Russian or German speaker who struggles to suppress obstruent devoicing at the ends of syllables in English.  Well, not quite the same.  Children are so much better at suppressing misarticulations.  And that is a hallmark of language acquisition in Natural Phonology–the suppression of misarticulations.  A phonological system plays a major role in controlling muscular coordination during speech.  Morphonological Rules don’t have much to do with articulatory coordination, because they are just part of the speech production program that moves phonemic strings into the articulatory pipeline.

But what about non-linguistic coordination of the articulators?  I can talk while chewing on things, much to the annoyance of my audience.  Some people can’t help but speak with a lisp or a stutter.  Intoxicated people slur their words, and then there is singing and whispering.  Non-linguistic articulatory gestures have to get coordinated with articulatory gestures.  How does that happen?  I don’t have a simple answer, but I do believe that Natural Phonology offers a better approach than Generative Phonology in getting answers to the question of how the brain mediates clashes between linguistic and non-linguistic behavior.

But if phonological derivations are part of a program to coordinate articulatory gestures during speech, where do intuitions of well-formedness come from?  How do we know that bnick is not a possible English word, but blick is?  If any string of phonetic segments can be allowed as the input to a Process derivation, that helps to explain why I can try to pronounce Russian and French words and why my English processes impede my intended articulations.  But it loses me something I got from Generative Phonology–an explanation of why bnick is phonologically ill-formed for English.  So where does that knowledge come from?

Intuitions of well-formedness are expectations that  generative linguistic theory tends to attribute to a single source–the grammar.   But expectations of that sort need not come from a single source of information.  In adult native speakers, the Process system is generally a reliable filter on what is pronounceable because misarticulations were suppressed during the language acquisition phase.  My sense of well-formedness extends well beyond linguistic structures.  I can recognize missteps in dances, and I know it when I make those missteps.  Similarly, language learners come to know their own difficulties with pronunciation and whether their speech tract can produce the desired effects with minimal effort.  What makes bnick ill-formed is not that it is blocked from phonological inputs.  It is that I cannot pronounce it as easily as I can pronounce nonsense words like blick. To get to bnick, I have to suppress an epenthetic vowel that does not impede my pronunciation of blick.  (Well, bnick is a problem when I’m not speaking Russian anyway.  Russians don’t mind consonant clusters as much as English speakers do.)

Some puzzles for NP

Posted in Linguistics, Phonology by Geoffrey Nathan on February 18, 2009

I’ve been reading in various related areas for several years now, and some researchers outside the NP tradition (or who are actually hostile to it) have some findings that NP theorists need to take account of. I’ll mention some of them here, and it will be interesting to see what folks think.

Abby Cohn has done some work on vowel nasalization in English and French, and argues, based on actual articulatory data, that the vowel nasalization in English (as in ‘bend’)  is quite different articulatorily from that in French (as in ‘bonté’). In English the velum gradually raises from the /b/ towards the /d/, while in French the velum snaps down immediately and remains down till the /t/. Her argument is that nasalization is unspecified in English between the /b/ and the /n/, so it begins lowering immediately after the onset consonant, eventually reaching fully open position (she uses the term ‘interpolated’). In short, the nasalized vowel in English isn’t a substituted target, but rather an accident on the way to a nasal consonant, while the nasalized vowel in French is an intentional target, and thus articulatorily different.

Cohn, Abigail. 1993. “Nasalization in English: Phonology or Phonetics”. Phonology 10: 43-81.
Lisa Zsiga has similar work in the ‘bless you’ assimilation, finding different tongue shapes for the assimilated /ʃ/ from the underlying one.
2000 Zsiga, Elizabeth C. “Phonetic alignment constraints: Consonant overlap and palatalization in English and Russian”, Journal of Phonetics 28: 69 – 102.

The basic point here is that ‘segments’ produced through the operation of processes are different kinds of things from segments produced as aimed at, even if they sound the same (i.e. have some nasalization, or have a hiss with a higher center of gravity).

Why Natural Phonology is not Generative Phonology

Posted in Uncategorized by rwojcik on February 15, 2009

Edward Sapir: Early Natural Phonologist?

Although it has been around since the mid-1960s, Natural Phonology is not well known or understood by most linguists.  Most who know about it consider it a variant of generative phonology.  That is not surprising, since most linguists are generative linguists, and it is not unusual for scholars to see the work of others in terms of how well it relates to their own.  So it is easy to to think of Panini as the world’s first structuralist or generativist.  I would love to call Baudouin de Courtenay the first Natural Phonologist, but structuralists and generativists have also claimed him for their own.  Chomsky and Halle named their seminal work, The Sound Pattern of English, in honor of Edward Sapir‘s famous “Sound Patterns in Language”, although I will make the case in the future that they actually did more harm than homage to Sapir’s work.  David Stampe, howevermuch he was influenced by Halle and other generative phonologists, did not claim to be following in their footsteps.  He wasn’t even following in Baudouin’s, whose work was still obscure to Western linguists in the mid-60s.  (The first major English translation of Baudouin’s work was published by Edward Stankiewicz in 1972.)

The simplest explanation of how Natural Phonology differs from Generative Phonology is to examine what generative linguistic theory is about.  It is about grammaticality.  More specifically, it is a theory of language that takes intuitions of grammaticality as its primary focus.  A grammar in a generative framework is a device that defines linguistic well-formedness.  Natural Phonology does not focus so much on well-formedness as on linguistic production and perception.  Intuitions of grammaticality are not necessarily what the theory tries to explain.  Phonology explains something else:  the discrepancy between what speakers intend to pronounce and what they end up pronouncing, or the discrepancy between the sounds that the listener thinks the speaker produced and the actual speech signal produced.

Natural Phonology’s emphasis on the fundamental nature of  linguistic performance can have an impact on how one thinks of phonological derivations.  In generative theory, a derivation has a well-formed input and a derived output produced by linguistic operations on the input.  For example, English does not have nasal vowel phonemes, so generative derivations do not normally posit nasal vowels as the input to a derivation.  Nasal vowels appear before nasal consonants in words such as camp and cone.  This can be explained in terms of a phonological rule that converts a [-nasal] feature to [+nasal] in the vowels that precede the nasal consonant.  The input is well-formed, and that explains why English speakers perceive nasal vowels in foreign words as somehow “foreign” to their own intuition of what is pronounceable, despite the fact that they pronounce nasal vowels all over the place.

Natural Phonology has the same concept of phonological derivation, and its input forms can also be “well-formed” from a native speaker’s perspective.  But here is a difference:  the input forms to a phonological derivation in Natural Phonology do not have to be well-formed.  Since a speaker can try to pronounce any phonetic target–any string of phonetic segments imaginable–any phonetic string can be the input to a phonological derivation in Natural Phonology.  Intuitions of well-formedness are side-effects of constraints on articulation, i.e. Processes, not a fundamental property of the input of a phonological derivation.  When English speakers try to pronounce nasal vowels while learning French or Polish, they must learn to suppress a phonological Process that governs their own articulation:  the denasalization Process.  Hence, the input (a phonetic target) can be intuitively ill-formed, but it is the fact that well-coordinated English pronunciation destroys nasality that makes them think of nasal vowel phonemes as “foreign”.  Their own nasal vowels before nasal consonants are perceived as oral vowels for the same reason.  Intuitions of well-formedness are a side effect of linguistic performance.

Stampe’s theory takes a somewhat radical departure from traditional linguistic theories, not just generative theory, in its explicit rejection of phonotactics–the idea that there are special restrictions on permissible combinations of sounds.  The most famous example of a phonotactic condition on sound clusters is Chomsky and Halle’s argument surrounding the ill-formedness of initial /bn/ clusters in English.  (See the abstract of Hayes and Wilson’s A Maximum Entropy Model of Phonotactics and Phonotactic Learning for a web-accessible, clear exposition of a generative approach to phonotactics.)  Briefly, Chomsky and Halle argued that the intuitive ill-formedness of a word like bnick contrasted with the well-formedness of the real word brick and the nonsense word blick because of a constraint on such clusters on the inputs of English phonological derivations.

Phonotactics can be said to exist precisely because Baudouin de Courtenay defined phonology in terms of phonetic alternations between phonetic segments.  He recognized just two fundamental types of alternations:  physiophonetic and psychophonetic.  Physiophonetic (i.e. phonological) alternations were those in which the sounds represented variants of the same underlying phoneme.  Psychophonetic (i.e. Morphophonological) alternations were those between two different underlying phonemes.  For example, the last sound in the word this is a normal s in isolation, but it can be pronounced like sh (palatal sibilant) in the expression this year.  For Baudouin, the s/sh alternation would be physiophonetic, and both variants would represent the phoneme /s/.  But the s in express also alternates with the sh sound in expression.  So Baudouin would have considered that s/sh alternation to be psychophonetic, involving two distinct phonemes.  The difference was that physiophonetic alternations were purely mechanical constraints (i.e. Process-governed) on the articulation of phonemes, whereas psychophonetic alternations were conscious attempts (i.e. Rule-governed) to articulate different phonemes.  The point I want to make here though is that phonotactic phenomena are not associated with phonetic alternations, so they tend to be seen as phenomena unrelated to phonological substitutions.  This is not the case in Natural Phonology.

So how different is Natural Phonology from Generative Phonology?  Well, the explanation of what makes bnick sound ill-formed is quite different in Natural Phonology.  What happens when one tries to pronounce bnick is evidence of something in Natural Phonology.  Typically, English speakers insert an epenthetic vowel to break up the cluster:  [bӘnIk].  That doesn’t happen with normal English words, so the juxtaposed /bn/ sounds ill-formed to English ears.  To pronounce it, one must make the effort of suppressing the epenthetic vowel.  Hence, there is no need to posit a special phonological constraint on the well-formedness of consonant clusters in Natural Phonology.  That falls out as a natural consequence of the fact that inputs to phonological derivations are ultimately unconstrained.  One can try to pronounce any string of sounds.  It is just that phonology is the basis of articulatory gestures in speech production, whereas morphophonology belongs to an entirely separate component of linguistic description–the production of phonemic strings representing words and morphemes.

What is a phonetic segment?

Posted in Linguistics, Phonology by rwojcik on February 12, 2009
Jan Niecislaw Baudouin de Courtenay

Jan Niecislaw Baudouin de Courtenay

Phonetic segments (phones) are not physical things. They are mental constructs with physical manifestations. Linguists represent them with phonetic symbols enclosed in brackets:  [p], [b], [m], [æ].  Linguists also classify phonetic segments according to their acoustic and articulatory properties.  So another way to characterize them is as a bundle of phonetic features, which are usually binary to indicate the presence or lack of the feature.  So [p] can also be represented as a feature bundle: [+labial], [+stop], [-voice].  Phonetic segments have a two-faced character.  They can be manifested in two ways  acoustic and articulatory.  So feature classes can represent articulatory, acoustic, or both characteristics.

The physical manifestations of phonetic segments are dynamic, not static, in nature.  That is, the articulation of [p] requires sequential and simultaneous events in the speech tract.  The speaker needs a very sophisticated program of muscular coordination to produce sequences of segments, and that program of coordination can alter the pronunciation of the sequence so as to do two different things:  make the segments easier to hear or easier to produce.  Under noisy conditions, the articulation of the segments may be altered in different ways than it is under more casual conditions.  For example, an English speaker might reduce or eliminate the vowel in the first syllable polite in casual speech, pronouncing it more like plight.  Likewise, a speaker might pronounce please in emphatic speech more like policePuh-lease!  Casual speech reduces articulation, thus helping the speaker more than the hearer.  Emphatic speech enhances the acoustic properties of the speech signal, thus helping the hearer more than the speaker.  The two-faced character of phonetic segments affects the mental program that coordinates articulatory gestures.  The operations governing such a program are motivated by the opposing interests of the speaker and the hearer.  Phonology is the study of the discrepancy between the articulatory targets that the speakers intend to produce and end up producing.  It is also (but maybe to a lesser degree) the study of the discrepancy between the auditory-acoustic signal that hearers receive and the string of phonetic segments that they think the speaker intended to articulate.

Consider the strings of phonetic targets that speakers try to produce.  These phonetic targets differ across languages and dialects.  They are phonetic segments that speakers associate with the words and morphemes of their mental lexicons.  We call those phonetic segments or targets phonemes.  Those are the speech sounds that speakers expect to hear and associate with the words of their language.  Phonemes have to be acoustically distinct from each other in order to help us distinguish words, so phonemes are phonetic segments that can be used to distinguish words in the mental lexicon.  Unfortunately, the coordination of articulatory gestures may reduce or eliminate their distinctive function in running speech.  Police and please can sound a lot more like each other in casual speech than when they are carefully articulated.

Now we have a rudimentary understanding of the nature of phonetic segments or idealized phonetic targets.  Notice that we are not limited to producing just the phonemes of our language.  We can try to articulate foreign sounds.  We can try to pronounce English with a foreign accent or in a different dialect from our native one.  As long as we are speaking a language, as opposed to just making noises with our mouths, the mind will impose a program of articulatory coordination on strings of phonetic targets.  To acquire proper pronunciation in a foreign dialect or language, we may need to suppress or alter parts of the articulatory program that we use to produce native pronunciations.  We also may need to set up new phonetic targets as new phonemes.  The sounds that we try to articulate may change, and the way we pronounce the sounds we try to articulate also changes.

Now I will present the basic idea of Natural Phonology.  It is not a structuralist or generativist theory of phonology, although I’ll have more to say about that in later posts.  Like generative theory (but unlike structuralist theory), Natural Phonology is explicitly a psychological approach to language.  The main difference is that Natural Phonology can only be understood in terms of behavioral strategies.  It posits two distinct types of strategies that directly affect speech production:

  1. Processes: operations that alter the articulation of a sequence of phonetic segments (or phonemes) that a speaker intends to articulate
  2. Rules: operations that alter the string of phonetic segments (or phonemes) that a speaker intends to articulate

From a traditional linguistic perspective, processes are purely phonological operations.  Rules operate outside of phonology, although they also play a role in pronunciation.  They are part of what Trubetzkoy called morphophonology.

Finally, let us consider how Rules and Processes affect foreign language acquisition.  Consider native German speakers who learn to pronounce the plural of knife. Germans have a Process that governs the pronunciation of all final obstruent consonants.  We hear the effect in a German accent, where the speakers pronounce a word like give as giff.  To learn English articulation, native speakers of German must suppress the articulatory constraint or Process that devoices final consonants.  Now, the problem with knife is that the plural form undergoes a Rule that replaces the final /f/ in the stem with /v/.  German speakers must learn to try to pronounce a /v/ phoneme instead of an /f/ in order to produce standard English knives.  So German speakers face a doubly difficult problem with that plural form, because they have to learn to alter the intended phonemic target in the stem while simultaneously suppressing the devoicing of the final consonant cluster.  When German speakers learning English say knifes [nayfs], we do not know whether they are actually intending to pronounce a voiced consonant cluster and can’t do it or a voiceless cluster because they haven’t yet learned what to try to pronounce.

The Rule/Process dichotomy in Natural Phonology explains the fundamental psychological difference between phonological and morphonological operations.  Not surprisingly, the dichotomy corresponds exactly to the psychophonetic/physiophonetic alternational dichotomy that the founder of modern phonology, Baudouin de Courtenay, first called to the attention of his linguistic peers.

Welcome to Natural Phonology

Posted in Linguistics, Phonology by rwojcik on February 12, 2009

My name is Rick Wojcik.  I received my Ph.D. in linguistics from Ohio State University in 1973 and went on to teach linguistics at Columbia University, Barnard College, and Hofstra University until 1987.  I subsequently became a researcher and developer Natural Language Processing programs in industry.

The main purpose of this blog is to publish on topics that are relevant David Stampe’s theory of Natural Phonology.  The scope need not be limited to Natural Phonology per se, but it is limited to linguistic approaches that are compatible with the vision of phonological theory that David pioneered in the mid-1960s, when generative phonology was under development as a branch of generative theory.  Part of my motivation for establishing this blog is to help clear away confusion and misconceptions about Natural Phonology, which is not really a generative linguistic theory of phonology.  The theory has actually become somewhat obscure to most working phonologists nowadays, and I have always believed that the main reason for that is the tendency of most linguists to interpret it as just another approach to phonology within their overall framework.  My hope here is to provide an alternative point of view that can serve as an outlet for what some of us take to be a very revolutionary theory of phonology.

Ironically, Natural Phonology can also be described as reactionary, because it is something of a throwback to Jan Niecisław Ignacy Baudouin de Courtenay‘s original concept of phonological theory, which he described in terms of  physiophonetic alternations.  I will have more to say about this in future posts to this blog.