The History of Modern
Josh, Nick & Issac
The Timeline Of Phonology
Early 20th Century
Linguistic Scientific
Post Generative
The Pre-Generative Era
► Movements in
phonological theory coincide with
changes in philosophical interpretations of the
role of science
► Death of Ferdinand de Saussure (1913) signals
break with descriptive/taxonomic linguistics &
19th c. Darwinian naturalism - universe as a
product of natural laws
► New era of structuralism (1920s-1970s) emerges
motivated by quest to legitimize linguistics as a
true “science”
► Structuralism dictates
that without structure there
is no meaning (onion/layers analogy). Language
is thus a system of structures.
► Prague School (1926-40s) - challenges role and
importance of phonetics, which was largely
descriptive and empiricist (experiential) and not
the stuff of a “real” science
► Key players: Trubetzkoy (1890-1938) and
Jakobson (1896-1982) - founders of modern
phonology, provided key concepts, theoretical
framework and methodologies
► Principles
of Phonology (1939): phonemicization
procedures, neutralization, and feature theory
► “Phoneme” seen as abstract entity and bundle of
distinctive features, and language as structured
system of phonological oppositions
► Emphasized that oppositions (i.e. meaningful
contrasts) such as /s/ and /z/ not due to mental
image (emic) but strictly audible contrast (etic)
► This
strengthens their position that phonemes are
points in a system rather than mental entities
► Other structuralist approaches: Stratification
Phonology (1960s) - in the phonemic stratum
phonemes are realized as morphemic elements;
‘morphons’ /k/ ‘critic’ and /s/ ‘critic-ism’ realized
as phonemes
► Aside: Baudouin de Courtenay (1845-1929)
credited with mentalist interpretation of
phoneme, which was not revisited until
generative phonology hit the scene
Generative Phonology
► Stems
from the work of Chomsky and Halle
► Belongs to the “Transformational-Generative”
► Chomsky was critical of his predecessors’ ideas
of a taxonomic approach to linguistics
► Where the previous phonological theories were
focused on classification, Generative phonology
is concerned with accounting for the competence
of a native speaker
Basic Theories of Generative Phonology
► Generative
phonology uses information from
Syntax and Semantics and converts this
information to the phonetic form
► Wolfram (1974) gives us this flow chart:
Example from: (Wolfram 1974)
Generative Phonology Continued
The goal of generative phonology is to establish rules that
produce only the well-formed utterances of a language
Lexical information aids in the finding of the Underlying
The UR is, as Wolfram (1974) puts it, “An abstraction from
which the various phonetic forms of an item are eventually
derived through the process of applying various phonological
An important distinction: Previous phonological theory puts the
phoneme as the basic unit. As we will see, Generative
Phonology uses something else as the basic unit.
Some Rules of Generative Phonology
Lexical Representations:
 Example: electric, elastic changes to electricity and elasticity. A
generalization can be made that certain forms ending in –ic change a final
[k] to a [s] when the suffix –ity is added.
 Generativists found patterns such as this example over groups of sounds
called natural classes
 They took these lexical items and applied rules such as the following ones
to derive the surface representations
Phonological Rules:
► Once
a rule(s) are determined, as in the k→s example,
features become the best way to represent sound change
in natural classes
► Features allow us to see the important changes that are
taking place
► Although features were used in previous phonological
theories, those theories considered the central unit to be
the phoneme whereas generative phonology, features
became the central unit.
Theories that have stemmed from
Generative Phonology
► Natural
Generative Phonology
 Proposed by Vennemann in the early 1970’s
 Basically ruled out the UR and claimed that any UR
that differed from the surface form must be
indentical to one of the surface allomorphs
 Rules were regarded as generalizations to the surface
form rather than a way to generate the surface form
Theories that have stemmed from
Generative Phonology
► Natural
 Proposed by Stampe in the mid 1970’s
 Stampe began by looking at child language
acquisition and developed his theories from those
 Basic thesis is that sound patterns are governed by
implicit forces in human vocalization and perception
 Phonology is based on innate constraints that are
either active or suppressed based on a specific
Post-Generative Phonology
Post-generative theories and frameworks:
 Autosegmental Phonology
 Metrical Phonology
 Lexical Phonology
 Optimality Theory
► Major post-generative ideas in phonology
have generally been extensions of
generative phonology or
objections/reactions to certain aspects of it.
Autosegmental Phonology
First developed by John Goldsmith in the 1970s
Focused on the tonology of Igbo (west Africa)
Non-linear approach to phonology
Features are placed on separate ‘tiers’ which are connected by
‘association lines’
Weakening of ‘absolute slicing hypothesis’
Absolute slicing hypothesis: Two sounds cannot be
simultaneous or unordered.
In autosegmental phonology, this applies only to the features
each tier, not the segments.
Example from (Clark 2007)
Metrical Phonology
Developed by Mark Liberman in the 1970s
Initially developed as a theory of stress
later applied to other areas
Recognizes syllable as a ‘significant unit’ in phonological theory
Metrical Grid: (S = strong, W = weak)
Example from: Clark, 2007
It has been suggested that metrical phonology and autosegmental phonology
could be integrated into a single model
Lexical Phonology
Renewed interest in morphology
Resembles aspects of pre-generative phonemics, but like generative
phonology is rule-based and makes use of abstract underlying forms.
Lexical rules
Generally morphophonemic
Apply to output of morphology
e.g. stem final /k/ changes to [s] before -ity, -ism, etc.
/ilɛktrɪk/ → /ilɛktrɪsɪti/
Contains ordered levels on which morphological and some
phonological processes occur
Post-Lexical rules
Apply to output of lexical rules
Unlike lexical rules may apply across word boundaries
/tj/ → [tʃ] - don’t you → [doʊntʃu]
More unconscious and less tolerant of exceptions than lexical
Optimality Theory
Developed by Alan Prince & Paul Smolensky in the 1990s
Widely used as a framework for current phonology research
Maintains abstract underlying forms used in generative phonology
Constraint-based rather than rule-based
A universal set of constraints are ranked differently by the phonologies of
different languages
The functions GEN and EVAL produce possible surface form candidates and
determine which one is ‘optimal’ based on the constraint rankings.
☞ [ilip]
Example from: Zuraw, 2003
Clark, J. (2007). The progress of phonology. Boston: Blackwell
Goldsmith, J. & Laks B. (n.d.). Generative phonology: its origins, its
principles, and its successors. Retrieved from
Wolfram, W. (1974). Generative Phonology: The Basic Model. [PDF
Document] Retrieved from:
Trommer, J. (2008). Autosegmental phonology: Tone. University of Lepzig
Department of Linguistics. Retrieved from:
► Zuraw, K. (2003). Optimality theory in linguistics. Manuscript submitted for
publication, Department of Linguistics, University of Southern California, Los
Angeles, California. Retrieved from

The History of Modern Phonology