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If phonological systems were seen as adaptations to universal performance constraints on speaking, listening and learning to speak, what would they be like?
Lindblom (1990: 102)
Our starting point is a hypothesis central to contemporary phonology: that the markedness laws characterising the typology of sound systems play a role, as grammatical constraints, in the linguistic competence of individual speakers. From this assumption, a basic question follows:How are grammars structured, if markedness laws actively function within them as elements of linguistic competence? We find the answer offered by Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky 1993) worth investigating: the grammatical counterparts of markedness laws are ranked and violable constraints and the latter form ‘the very substance from which grammars are built: a set of highly general constraints which, through ranking, interact to produce the elaborate particularity of individual languages’ (Prince and Smolensky 1993: 217). With qualifications, this view is adopted by many of the contributions to this volume.
The focus of our book is on a different, complementary question: Where do markedness laws come from? Why are sound systems governed by these laws and not by some conceivable others? What is the source of the individual's knowledge of markedness-based constraints? The hypothesis shared by many writers in this volume is that phonological constraints can be rooted in phonetic knowledge (Kingston and Diehl 1994), the speakers' partial understanding of the physical conditions under which speech is produced and perceived. The source of markedness constraints as components of grammar is this knowledge. The effect phonetic knowledge has on the typology of the world's sound systems stems from the fact that certain basic conditions governing speech perception …
Phonetically Based Phonology is centred around the hypothesis that phonologies of languages are determined by phonetic principles; that is, phonetic patterns involving ease of articulation and perception are expressed linguistically as grammatical constraints. This book brings together a team of scholars to provide a wide-ranging study of phonetically based phonology. It investigates the role of phonetics in many phonological phenomena - such as assimilation, vowel reduction, vowel harmony, syllable weight, contour line distribution, metathesis, lenition, sonority sequencing, and the Obligatory Contour Principle (OCP) - exploring in particular the phonetic bases of phonological markedness in these key areas. The analyses also illustrate several analytical strategies whereby phonological sound patterns can be related to their phonological underpinnings. Each chapter includes a tutorial discussion of the phonetics on which the phonological discussion is based. Diverse and comprehensive in its coverage, Phonetically Based Phonology will be welcomed by all linguists interested in the relationship between phonetics and phonological theory.
The primary goal of Browman and Goldstein's study appears to be that of modeling speech at a level of detail far greater than that to which a phonologist ordinarily aspires. For this reason, phonologists might be tempted to consider their gestural framework not as an alternative to the standard autosegmental model (the model presented in Goldsmith 1976; Clements 1985; and others) but rather as a way of beefing up the autosegmental representations so that they can begin to deal with certain subphonemic aspects of articulatory timing.
In these comments, however, I will assume, that Browman and Goldstein are presenting a distinct theoretical alternative and that they advocate the adoption of gestural representations to the exclusion of autosegmental representations, not just as an interpretive appendix to them. I will begin by outlining the formal differences between gestures and autosegments. I will explain then why the distinct properties of the theory of autosegmental timing remain more useful in phonological analyses. In the last section of my comment, I will try to show that the points on which Browman and Goldstein's representations diverge from standard autosegmental theory have direct application to the description of certain phonological phenomena which have so far remained unexplained.
Gestures and autosegments
To understand what differentiates the gestural and autosegmental models we must look for answers to two questions: what types of units are the phonological representations made of and what types of relations obtain between these units?
The phenomenon studied in this paper is the correspondence between the syllabic position of segments copied in reduplication and the syllabic position of their base counterparts. I will document this correlation and propose a model of reduplication that explains it.
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