The Big Bang, individual differences, and the community grammar

Josef Fruehwald

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Abstract / Description of output

In this paper, I will explore emerging evidence regarding the development of phonologization, specifically how its naturalness, regularity and coherence is to be grounded. The conventional wisdom regarding how new regular phonological processes enter into the grammar is through a process of “phonologization,” whereby phonetic pressures in either production or perception are reinterpreted as being generated by the phonology (Ohala, 1981; Bermúdez-Otero, 2007; among others). The phonological distribution of allophones is assumed to be isomorphic with the distribution of phonetic variants that gave rise to the original phonologization (Hyman, 1976). In this way, the phonetic naturalness and regularity of phonological processes is anchored in the putative history of its origins (Blevins, 2004). However, recent work on a phonologization in progress in a number of dialects (pre-voiceless /ay/ raising) has called this model into question. Fruehwald (2016) argued that this phonologization was better accounted for by a “Big Bang” model (Janda & Joseph, 2003), because it appeared at all points phonetic conditioning mischaracterized the distribution of variants, which appeared to be phonologically conditioned from the outset. Recent work in Fort Wayne, Indiana, by Berkson, Davis & Strickler (2017) casts the phonologization of /ay/ raising in a much more chaotic light. There appears to be a broad mixture of speakers with both phonetic and phonological conditioning of the allophony. Even within speakers who have phonological conditioning, it is not uniform across mono- and bi-syllables (cf. Bermúdez-Otero, 2017), raising the question of why it is that none of these phonetically conditioned or syllabically restricted systems are attested in any dialects with fully phonologized raising. It appears that phonologization reorganizes the distribution of variants, breaking the isomorphism between phonetic motivation and phonological processes. The chaotic mixture of systems in Fort Wayne, together with the observed regularity of fully phonologized /ay/ raising should be reminiscent of the attack on the idiolect as a coherent object of analysis in Weinreich et al (1968) and Labov (1966). They argued that the only coherent unit of linguistic analysis was the Speech Community Grammar. Recent inquiries suggest that many interesting things about language are to be learned from studying individual idiolects (reviewed in Tamminga et al , 2016). However, other evidence suggest that the Labovian outlook could well be correct that regularity and coherence could well be the product of the speech community (Kirby et al, 2008; Mielke et al, 2016).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017
EventThird Edinburgh Symposium on Historical Phonology - University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 29 Nov 20171 Dec 2017


ConferenceThird Edinburgh Symposium on Historical Phonology
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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