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Generative phonology in the late 1940s*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 June 2008

John A. Goldsmith
University of Chicago


This paper offers a careful reading of an article published by Rulon Wells in Language in 1949 on the subject of automatic alternations in phonology. Read with a modern eye, it reveals that phonologists were exploring the value and use of phonological derivations, including both abstract representations and intermediate representations, in the late 1940s. Contrary to what has been suggested in the literature, Bloomfield's explorations in rule ordering published in 1939 were not isolated and without influence. Our conclusion is the null hypothesis: that there is an intellectual continuity from the work of Sapir and Bloomfield, through that of Wells and Harris, to that of Chomsky & Halle. We conclude by offering some suggestions as to why this is not widely recognised in the field.

Copyright © 2008 Cambridge University Press

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