The Phonology of English: A Prosodic Optimality-Theoretic Approach

The Phonology of English: A Prosodic Optimality-Theoretic Approach

The Phonology of English: A Prosodic Optimality-Theoretic Approach

The Phonology of English: A Prosodic Optimality-Theoretic Approach


The Phonology of English offers a new approach to English phonology. It focuses on the prosody of the language, i.e. syllable and foot structure, and does so from an optimality-theoretic (OT) perspective. The book is thus intended as a detailed presentation of novel empirical results about the sound system of English, along with important theoretical results about phonological theory.


The topic of this book is English phonology, from the perspective of what I will call Prosodic Optimality Theory (Prosodic OT). This work is distinct from other books on English phonology in a number of regards.

First, though the data and theory treated are complex and technically demanding, the perspective taken is introductory in two critical respects. I assume no prior knowledge of English phonology or of OT. My hope is that this will allow this book to be of use to readers who know relatively little about phonology, and to technical phonologists as well.

Second, the data treated here are drawn from several computer databases of English, occasionally augmented with the author's intuitions. This results both in a rather different view of what is or is not grammatical in English and in a more correct view (since it is based on a systematic and unbiased examination of the words of English).

Third, because of the nature of the theory of OT and the kind of data available, this work only treats distributional regularities in monomorphemic English words. The theory lends itself to this because of its focus on surface regularities. The data lend themselves to this because while the corpus is clear, decisions about which forms alternate with each other or are even related morphologically to each other is far more subjective.

Fourth, this book focuses on the prosody of English--the allowable configurations of consonants, vowels, and phonetic prominence. This focus is dictated by a number of facts. First, OT has grown out of much work which leads to the conclusion that a surface-oriented constraint-based approach is appropriate for the theory of prosody. Other domains of phonology are not so readily treated or so obviously best treated in terms of such a theory. Another reason to treat prosody is that it is arguably the linchpin of English phonology. The seminal work on English prosody, The Sound Pattern of English (Chomsky and Halle 1968) took the position that the vowel shift was the central organizing point of English phonology. This book challenges that view.

Fifth, this book takes an OT perspective on English phonology. This is the first full treatment of English prosody from an OT perspective and the first analysis of a prosodic system of this complexity from the perspective of that theory. This offers a unique pedagogical opportunity for students to understand Optimality Theory (since the data are familiar) and a unique opportunity to test this theory (since the data are so complex).

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