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Why underlying representations?

  • LARRY M. HYMAN (a1)

Phonology is a rapidly changing and increasingly varied field, having traveled quite some distance from its original structuralist and generative underpinnings. In this overview I address the status of underlying representations (URs) in phonology, which have been rejected by a number of researchers working in different frameworks. After briefly discussing the current state of phonology, I survey the arguments in favor of vs. against URs, considering recent surface-oriented critiques and alternatives. I contrast three straightforward abstract tonal analyses against the potential arguments which accuse URs of being (i) wrong, (ii) redundant, (iii) indeterminate, (iv) insufficient, or (v) uninteresting. Identifying two distinct goals in linguistics which I refer to as determining ‘what’s in the head?’ vs. ‘what’s in the language?’, I suggest, responding to some rather strong opinions to the contrary, that URs are an indispensable and welcome tool offering important insights into the typology of phonological systems, if not beyond.

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Author’s address: Department of Linguistics, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-2650, USA
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An earlier version of this paper was presented at the University of California, Berkeley and as the Henry Sweet Lecture at the Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Association of Great Britain, University College, London, 16 September 2015, as part of a workshop on the Current Status of Underlying Representations in Phonology ( I would like to thank participants at both events, as well as Jeffrey Heinz, Sharon Inkelas, Keith Johnson, and Mark Liberman for helpful discussions of the issues raised in this paper. I would especially like to thank the editors of JL and three anonymous referees who put in an enormous effort and thought into their helpful comments on the original manuscript. While I have followed as much of their advice as I could, I hope they will not hold against me that I wasn’t able to address all of the important issues they raised.

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