Skip to main content

On formal universals in phonology

  • Andrew Nevins (a1)

Understanding the universal aspects of human language structure requires comparison at multiple levels of analysis. While Evans & Levinson (E&L) focus mostly on substantive variation in language, equally revealing insights can come from studying formal universals. I first discuss how Artificial Grammar Experiments can test universal preferences for certain types of abstract phonological generalizations over others. I then discuss moraic onsets in the language Arrernte, and how its apparent substantive variation ultimately rests on a formal universal regarding syllable-weight sensitivity.

Hide All
Blevins, J. (2001) Where have all the onsets gone? Initial consonant loss in Australian aboriginal languages. In: Forty years on: Ken Hale and Australian languages, ed. Simpson, J., Nash, D., Laughren, M., Austin, P. & Alpher, B., pp. 481–92. Pacific Linguistics 512. The Australian National University.
Breen, G. & Pensalfini, R. (1999) Arrernte: A language with no syllable onsets. Linguistic Inquiry 30(1):126.
Davis, S. (1988) Syllable onsets as a factor in stress rules. Phonology 5:119.
Downing, L. (1998) On the prosodic misalignment of onsetless syllables. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 16:152.
Goedemans, R. (1998) Weightless segments. Holland Academic Graphics.
Gordon, M. (2005) A perceptually-driven account of onset-sensitive stress. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 23:595653.
Hale, K. L. (1964) Classification of northern Paman languages, Cape York Peninsula, Australia: A research report. Oceanic Linguistics 3(2):248–64.
Haspelmath, M. (1999) Optimality and diachronic adaptation. Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft 18(2):180205.
Hayes, B. (1989) Compensatory lengthening in moraic phonology. Linguistic Inquiry 20:253306.
Hyman, L. (1985) A theory of phonological weight. (Publications in Language Sciences 19). Foris.
McCarthy, J. & Prince, A. (1986) Prosodic morphology 1986. Report No. RuCCS-TR-32. Rutgers University Center for Cognitive Science. Available at:
Moreton, E. (2008) Analytic bias and phonological typology. Phonology 25(1):83127.
Sommer, B. (1970) An Australian language without CV syllables. International Journal of American Linguistics 36:5758.
Sommer, B. (1981) The shape of Kunjen syllables. In: Phonology in the 1980's, ed. Goyvaerts, D. L., pp. 231–44. E. Story-Scientia.
Topintzi, N. (2009) Onsets: An exploration of their suprasegmental and prosodic behaviour. Unpublished book manuscript, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Behavioral and Brain Sciences
  • ISSN: 0140-525X
  • EISSN: 1469-1825
  • URL: /core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed