Phonology and Language Use

Phonology and Language Use

Phonology and Language Use

Phonology and Language Use

Synopsis

Referencing new developments in cognitive and functional linguistics, phonetics, and connectionist modeling, this book investigates various ways in which a speaker/hearer's experience with language affects the representation of phonology. Rather than assuming phonological representations in terms of phonemes, Joan Bybee adopts an exemplar model, in which specific tokens of use are stored and categorized phonetically with reference to variables in the context. This model allows an account of phonetically gradual sound change that produces lexical variation, and provides an explanatory account of the fact that many reductive sound changes affect high frequency items first.

Excerpt

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. It is the goal of the present work to explore to the extent possible at the present moment the nature of the relation between the use of linguistic forms on the one hand, and their storage and processing on the other.

To someone approaching linguistics from other disciplines, it might seem odd that language use has not been taken into account in formulating theories of language. However, since language is such a complex phenomenon, it has been necessary to narrow the field of study to make it manageable. Thus we commonly separate phonology from syntax, synchrony from diachrony, child language from adult language, and so on, constantly bearing in mind that interactions exist that will eventually have to be taken into account. We then go on to formulate theories for these domains — a theory of syntax, a theory of phonology, a theory of language acquisition — knowing all the while that the ultimate goal is to encompass all these subfields in one theory of language.

Early in the twentieth century, a proposal was made to distinguish the shared knowledge that a community of speakers has from the actual uses to which that knowledge is put (de Saussure 1916). Many researchers then focused their attention on the structure of that shared knowledge (called 'langue' by Saussure and 'competence' by Chomsky . . .

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