terça-feira, 2 de fevereiro de 2010

Phonology and Language Use

(Joan Bybee)

1. Language Use as Part of Linguistic Theory

1.1 Substance and Usage in Phonology

This book introduces into the traditional study of phonology the notion that language use plays a role in shaping the form and content of sound systems. In particular, the frequency with which individual words or sequences of words are used and the frequency with which certain patterns recur in a language affects the nature of mental representation and in some cases the actual phonetic shape of words.

Structuralism provided linguists with a workshop of analytic tools for breaking down the continuous speech stream into units, and these units into features; structuralism postulated hierarchical relations among the units and assigned structures to different levels of grammar, organizing language and the people who study it into subfields – phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics.

The present work proposes to demonstrate that the focus on structure needs to be supplemented with a perspective that includes more than just structure, a view that includes two other important aspects of the language phenomenon – the material content or substance of language, and language use. The substance of language refers to the two polar ends – phonetics and semantics – that language molds and structures, the two ends between which language forms the bridge. Language use includes not just the processing of language, but all the social and interactional uses to which language is put. For present purposes, in the context of phonology, the frequency with which certain words, phrases, or patterns are used will be shown to have an impact on phonological structure.

Units and levels do not submit to definitions that work for every case. We still do not have strict definitions of even the most basic units, such as segment, syllable, morpheme, and word.

While substance has found its way into phonology from both the phonetic and semantic end, use has been systematically excluded from structuralist theories altogether. (...) totally excluding factors of use from consideration ignores the potential relation between representation and use. It is certainly possible that the way language is used affects the way it is represented cognitively, and thus the way it
is structured.

1.3 The Creative Role of Repetition

Haiman (1994, 1998) discusses grammar as ritualized behavior and points to various properties of both ritual and grammar that are the result of repetition. It is useful here to distinguish between a ritual and a convention: though both represent repeated behavior, a ritual can be individual and idiosyncratic, but a convention is agreed upon socially and evokes a consistent response in other members of a society (Tomasello et al. 1993). What both concepts have in common is that their structure is shaped by repetition. The following is a summary of some aspects of language that are shaped by repetition.

(...)repetition leads to strength of representation Repetition also leads to reduction of form. Repetition also leads to the reduction of meaning. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, repetition leads to emancipation.

Haiman (1994) demonstrates that the development of ritual is a common process in the animal kingdom argues (Haiman 1998) that ritualization is the basis for the development of grammar.

1.4.1 Token Frequency

Token frequency has two distinct effects that are important for phonology and morphology. In one frequency effect, phonetic change often progresses more quickly in items with high token frequency. This effect is particularly noticeable in grammaticizing elements or phrases that undergo drastic reduction as they increase in frequency. (...) But the effect occurs on a more subtle level as well: regular sound change in many cases progresses more quickly in items of high toke frequency.

1.4.2 Type Frequency and Productivity

Another major effect of frequency and thus of usage is the effect of type frequency in determining productivity. Productivity is the extent to which a pattern is likely to apply to new forms (e.g., borrowed items or novel formations). It appears that the productivity of a pattern, expressed in a schema, is largely, though not entirely, determined by its type frequency: the more items encompassed by a schema, the stronger
it is, and the more available it is for application to new items. (...)

The importance of productivity of both phonological and morphological schemas to our understanding of cognitive representations of language cannot be overstated. Productivity provides us with evidence about the generalizations that speakers make, and it is important to stress that speakers’ generalizations are not always the same as those devised by linguists on the basis of distributional evidence. Distributional evidence often recreates past stages of a language and does not reveal the restructuring and reanalysis that the patterns might have undergone. Productivity can be used as a diagnostic to determine which patterns are fossilized, and which represent viable schemas accessible to speakers.

1.4.3 Frequency Effects in Other Theories

The proposal that frequency of use affects representation suggests a very different view of lexical storage and its interaction with other aspects of the grammar or phonology than that assumed in most current theories. Structuralist and generative theories assume that the lexicon is a static list, and that neither the rules nor the lexical forms of a language are changed at all by instances of use. Similarly, as Pierrehumbert (1999) points out, all versions of Optimality Theory (Hayes 1999, Prince and Smolensky 1993, 1997) posit a strict separation of lexicon and grammar that makes it impossible to describe any of the interactions of phonology with the lexicon that are attested in the literature, many of which have just been mentioned: for instance,
the fact that many phonological changes affect high-frequency items first, and the fact that the strength of phonotactic constraints is directly related to the number of items they apply to in the existing lexicon. Hammond (1999) identifies an effect of frequency in cases of the application of the Rhythm Rule and proposes that an Optimality Theory account of the facts can include item-specific constraints inserted into the constraint hierarchy. But such a proposal neither fits well with other properties of Optimality Theory nor does it provide an account for why words and phrases of different frequencies of use behave differently.

1.5 Phonology as Procedure, Structure as Emergent

If we conceptualize phonology as part of the procedure for producing and understanding language, the phonological properties of language should result from the fact that it is a highly practiced behavior asso ciated with the vocal tract of human beings.

Children learn phonological sequences as parts of words, never independently of words. Articulatory routines that are already mastered are called forth for the production of new words, leading to a tendency of children to expand their vocabulary by acquiring words that are phonologically similar to those they already know (Ferguson and Farwell 1975, Lindblom 1992). This tendency leads to the structuring of the phonological sequences across words and the limiting of the potentially immense phonetic inventory. Put another way, the repetition of gestures and sequences across words allows relations of identity and similarity to develop in stretches of speech, giving rise to segment, syllable, and foot-sized units.


Grammatical and phonological structure emerge from the facts of co-occurrence in language use.

1.7 Language as a Part of Human Behavior

A basic assumption of this book is that the cognitive and psychological processes and principles that govern language are not specific to language, but are in general the same as those that govern other aspects of human cognitive and social behavior.

2 A Usage-Based Model for Phonology and Morphology

2.1 Introduction

The goal of phonology as conceived by generative theory is to describe the following phenomena: (i) the relations among similar but physically distinct sounds that are nonetheless taken to be ‘the same’ in some sense (allophonic relations), (ii) the relations among variants of morphemes as they occur in different contexts, (iii) phonological units of various sizes – features, segments, syllables, feet, and so on, and (iv) language-specific and universal properties of these relations and units.

(...) an alternate model, which does not make the same assumptions as generative phonology, can accomplish these same goals as well as accommodate other facts about phonological structure that are left unexplained in generative theory.

2.2 The Rule/List Fallacy

(...) Structuralist frameworks placed great emphasis on the systematicity of language, and it was thought appropriate to reduce the enormous complexity of language by extracting regularities that could be captured in general statements (i.e., rules) thereby only representing truly idiosyncratic material in a list (i.e., the lexicon). In this view, the major goal of linguistic analysis is to determine which features of a unit are idiosyncratic, and which are predictable by rule, with the additional desideratum of having as many features predictable by rule as possible.

However, there is no particular reason to believe that human language users organize or process linguistic material in this way.

The point is not to deny the presence of regularities, but rather to say that predictable features need not be excluded from representation in individual items. The presence of a feature on a list does not exclude it from being predictable by rule.

2.3 Organized Storage

Linguistic items are not stored in a long, unstructured list. Rather, the regularities and similarities observable in linguistic items are used to structure storage.

2.7 Units of Storage

The phonological shape of all words and frequent phrases that a person uses are stored in memory along with information about their meaning and contexts of use, both linguistic and nonlinguistic. The storage is not a simple list, but entails a network of connections to related items that makes storage more efficient.

2.8 Phonological Units

The articulatory and acoustic stream that constitutes speech is continuous and does not yield to exhaustive segmentation.

3.3 A Cognitively Realistic Model of Phonological Representation

Similarly, Miller (1994), summarizing the results of several experiments on perceptual categorization of phonetic segments, concludes that phonetic categories are both context-dependent and multiply specified.

3.4 Linguistic Evidence for Detailed and Redundant Storage

Even if one accepts the basic insight of the phonemic principle – that objectively different sounds form relations of similarity with one another – that does not mean that we must also accept the postulates that mental representations are phonemic (...).

3.4.1 Lexical Variation

There seems to be widespread agreement that phonetic change is gradual and produces variation. There also seems to be agreement that sound change interacts with the lexicon and morphology, changing lexical items and creating alternations.

3.5 Usage-Based Categorization versus Phonemic Representation

Any theory that proposes that stored representations differ from actual tokens of use must wrestle with the problem of the nature of the stored representation.

3.7 A Model for Sound Change

A usage-based theory postulates that change is inherent in the nature of language. Grammars are not static entities, but constantly in the process of change resulting from the way that language is used. Thus, a model of language must include the mechanisms by which change occurs as an integral part of its architecture. For that reason it is relevant – in fact, necessary – to provide an account of sound change in a model of usage-based phonology.

3.8 Special Reduction of High-Frequency Words and Phrases

It is also interesting to consider how words and phrases undergo reduction in the more extreme cases of contraction and grammaticization. One might want to argue that such cases are not central to a model of phonological representation, but such an argument would be based on the false assumption that such cases are not common. I would argue that such cases are quite common, and that new instances are arising all the time. Not only does special reduction occur in greetings and discourse markers, but it is also always present during the grammaticization process. Phonological reduction creates grammatical markers that continue to be a locus of change due to high frequency.

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