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89. Gradience and Categoricality in Phonological Theory

Mirjam Ernestus

Subject Theoretical Linguistics » Phonology

Key-Topics functional grammar, generative grammar

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184236.2011.00091.x


Within phonological theory, important roles are assigned to the notions of “gradience” and “categoricality.” The opposition qualifies sounds and sound patterns, and is crucial both for the definition of the phonological and the phonetic components of generative grammar, and for the development of alternative types of grammatical models. This chapter discusses the assumptions generative phonology and its direct successors (including Optimality Theory) have made about the role of gradience. Moreover, it presents data supporting or contradicting these assumptions, and discusses new models accounting for the conflicting data. The most important section of this chapter (§2) discusses the opposition between categorical sounds, which are stable and represent clear distinct phonological categories (e.g. sounds showing all characteristics of voiced segments throughout their realizations), and gradient sounds, which may change during their realizations and may simultaneously represent different phonological categories (e.g. sounds that start as voiced and end as voiceless). A shorter section (§3) discusses categorical generalizations over sounds, which are fully productive, and gradient generalizations, which are less productive. The final section (§4) provides a short conclusion. In the early days of generative grammar, the opposition between categoricality and gradience was assumed to reflect ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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