Skip to main content Accessibility help

Explanation in variable phonology: An exponential model of morphological constraints

  • Gregory R. Guy (a1)

Variationist treatments of phonological processes typically provide precise quantitative accounts of the effects of conditioning environmental factors on the occurrence of the process, and these effects have been shown to be robust for several well-studied processes. But comparable precision in theoretical explanation is usually elusive, at the current state of the discipline. That is, the analyst is usually unable to say why the parameters should have the particular values that they do, although one can often explain relative ordering of environments. This article attempts to give a precise explanation — in the form of a quantitative theoretical prediction — of one robust quantitative observation about English phonology. The reduction of final consonant clusters (often called -t,d deletion) is well-known to be conditioned by the morphological structure of a target word. Deletion applies more in monomorphemic words (e.g., mist) than in inflected words (e.g., missed). In the theory of lexical phonology, these classes of words are differentiated by derivational history, acquiring their final clusters at different levels of the morphology. The theory further postulates that rules may apply at more than one level of the derivation. If -t,d deletion is treated as a variable rule with a fixed rate of application (p0) in a phonology with this architecture, then higher rates of application in underived forms (where the final cluster is present underlyingly and throughout the derivation) are a consequence of multiple exposures to the deletion rule, whereas inflected forms (which only meet the structural description of the rule late in the derivation) have fewer exposures and lower cumulative deletion. This further allows a precise quantitative prediction concerning surface deletion rates in the different morphological categories. They should be related as an exponential function of p0, depending on the number of exposures to the rule. The prediction is empirically verified in a study of -t,d deletion in seven English speakers.

Hide All
Bayley, R. (1991). Variation theory and second language learning. Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University.
Cedergren, H. & Sankoff, D. (1974). Variable rules: Performance as a statistical reflection of competence. Language 50:333355.
Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Fasold, R. A. (1972). Tense marking in Black English. Arlington, VA: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Guy, G. R. (1980). Variation in the group and the individual: The case of final stop deletion. In Labov, W. (ed.), Locating language in time and space. New York: Academic. 136.
Guy, G. R. (1989). MacVarb application and user documentation. Stanford: Stanford University, Linguistics Department.
Guy, G. R. & Boyd, S. (1990). The development of a morphological class. Language Variation and Change 2:118.
Harris, J. (1989). Towards a lexical analysis of sound change in progress. Journal of Linguistics 25:3556.
Kiparsky, P. (1982). Lexical morphology and phonology. In Yang, I. S. (ed.), Linguistics in the morning calm. Seoul: Hanshin.
Kiparsky, P. (1985). Some consequences of lexical phonology. In Ewens, C. J. & Anderson, J. M. (eds.), Phonology yearbook 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 85138.
Labov, W. (1969). Contraction, deletion, and inherent variability of the English copula. Language 45:715762.
Labov, W. (1989). The child as linguistic historian. Language Variation and Change 1:8598.
Labov, W., Cohen, P., Robins, C. & Lewis, J. (1968). A study of the nonstandard English of Black and Puerto Rican speakers in New York City (Cooperative Research Report No. 3288). Washington DC: U.S. Office of Education.
Mohanan, K. P. (1986). The theory of lexical phonology. Dordrecht: Reidel.
Nesbitt, C. (1984). The linguistic constraints on a variable process: /t,d/ deletion in Sydney speech. B. A. Honours thesis, University of Sydney.
Neu, H. (1980). Ranking of constraints on /t,d/ deletion in American English: A statistical analysis. In Labov, W. (ed.), Locating language in time and space. New York: Academic. 3754.
Rousseau, P. & Sankoff, D. (1978). Advances in variable rule methodology. In Sankoff, D. (ed.), Linguistic variation: Models and methods. New York: Academic. 5769.
Sankoff, D. (1978). Probability and linguistic variation. Synthese 37:217238.
Sankoff, D., & Labov, W. (1979). On the uses of variable rules. Language in Society 8:189222.
Santa Ana, O. (1991). Phonetic simplification processes in the English of the Barrio. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.
Weinreich, U., Labov, W., & Herzog, M. I. (1968). Empirical foundations for a theory of language change. In Lehmann, W. P. & Malkiel, Y. (eds.), Directions for historical linguistics. Austin: University of Texas Press. 95195.
Wolfram, W. (1969). A sociolinguistic description of Detroit Negro speech. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Recommend this journal

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

Language Variation and Change
  • ISSN: 0954-3945
  • EISSN: 1469-8021
  • URL: /core/journals/language-variation-and-change
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