UNIVERSITY OF BABYLON
COLLEGE OF EDUCATION FOR HUMAN SCIENCES
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
THE THEORY OF
A Presentation for a Course in Phonetics and Phonology,
Ph.D. Programme, 2012-2013
Hussain Hameed Mayouf
Prof. Fareed H. Al-Hindawi, Ph.D.
December, 4th, 2012
Instead of the fairly unified theory based on Chomsky
Halle's (1968) SPE which dominated phonological practice until
comparatively recently, there has been a vast increase in
competing models of phonology (Autosegmental phonology,
Metrical phonology, CV phonology, Dependency phonology,
etc.). All these models can be described as non-linear by
opposition to standard generative phonology where a
phonological representation is simply depicted as a linear
arrangement of segments (even though each of these segments is
composed of simultaneously occurring features) and where
phonological rules operate on such strings (they delete, insert, or
permute segments, or change their feature values).
Non-linear phonology is assumed to avert linear
representation of the phonological structure of a word, and
tends, instead to tackle it in terms of a series of segments
horizontally; each in turn being analyzed in tablets of (+/-)
columns of features. Thus, such an approach to phonology is
characterized by shedding more emphasis on representations
and constraints rather than on rules and processes.
The latter point highlights two remarks: first, that such an
approach fails to handle features extending over domains greater
than an individual segment; and second, that the structural
relation between one matrix and another is not clearly
2. Natural Generative Phonology (NGP)
NGP is one of the models that appeared in the wake of
generative models of phonology. It emerged in the 1980's and
early 1980's from number of papers by Venneman and then
expounded by Hooper in 1976. NGP requires that phonological
rules and representations bear a direct relation to surface
Hooper (1976: xi) purports that NGP is based in part on
transformational generative phonology. She highlights that the
major difference concerns the abstractness of phonological
representation and rules. In NGP, the derivation of
morphophonemic's would be described directly as a function of
morphological and lexical categories; whereas in generative
phonology it is described as the result of the abstract
phonological representations and ordered rules.
3. Natural phonology (NP)
NP is a theory devised by David Stampe at the 1980's
proposing genetically inhibited set of phonetically natural
processes as a specific language is required. Natural Phonology
has always advocated (cf. Donegan and Stampe, 1979; Dressler,
1996; Dziubalaska-kolaszyk, 2001) the holistic view on
language, both in the sense of analyzing language structures
(against ‘splendid isolation’ of any structure) as well as in the
sense of seeing language as part of the universe. The latter
means that the same principles of explanation apply to language
and to other aspects of life, and thus they are derivable from the
most general laws of human interaction with nature. In Natural
Phonology the principles are cognitive, phonetic, psychological,
Natural Phonology (NP henceforth) is a theory of
phonological structure, acquisition and change originated by
David Stampe (1969 and 1973) and developed by David Stampe
and Patricia Donegan (1979).
Natural phonology (NP) views the phonology of a language as
a system of subconscious mental processes that in real time
mediate between intended but unpronounceable lexical forms of
utterances and pronounceable surface forms. In production, the
prosody maps lexical items in morphological and syntactic
structures onto a real time rhythmic score. The scored sequence
is submitted first to fortition processes that enhance the
perceptibility of its rhythmic divisions (such as feet and
syllables) and its phonemes, and then to lenition processes that
enhance the pronounceability of the sequences of sounds within
their rhythmic domains.
The theory operates with phonological processes, which
constitute natural responses of the human vocal and perceptual
systems to the difficulties encountered in the production and
perception of speech. For instance, it is more difficult to produce
a voiced stop than a voiceless one, as well as a voiced velar stop
than an alveolar one, while a bilabial one is the easiest of the
three. Phonological processes are thus phonetically motivated.
They are universal, since all humans exhibit the same potential
to respond to the difficulties of speech. A child learns to inhibit
some of those natural responses in order to arrive at a languagespecific phonology.
Importantly, “the universality of processes does not mean
that they apply in all languages – only that they are motivated in
all speakers” (Donegan, 2002: 64). NP explains by referring to
the tension between two conflicting criteria (ease of production
vs. clarity of perception). There is also a conflict between
paradigmatic (segmental) and syntagmatic (sequential)
Processes perform substitutions in order to adapt the
speaker's phonological intentions to his/her phonetic capacities
as well as enable the listener to decode the intentions from the
flow of speech. They are thus either context-sensitive,
assimilatory substitutions (lenitions), or context-free,
dissimilatory ones (fortitions). Higher order prosodic processes
map segmental material on rhythmic patterns prior to the
operation of articulatorily and perceptually driven substitutions.
Stampe (1973) insists on a strict distinction between
phonology and morphonology: morphonological rules do not
have any synchronic phonetic motivation and have to be learned
by children in first language acquisition.
A phoneme in NP is an underlying intention shared by the
speaker and the listener. The shared knowledge of intentions
guarantees communication between the speaker and the listener
within a given language, even if the actually pronounced forms
diverge substantially from what is intended, for example, in
casual speech. In other words, phonemes are fully specified,
"Naturally pronounceable" in NP means "derivable by means
of phonological processes". Processes manifest themselves in all
types of phonological behaviour of language users: in normal
performance, in child language, in second language acquisition,
in aphasia and other types of disorders, in casual speech, in
emphatic speech, in slips, errors, language games, whispered
and silent speech, as well as in the changing phonological
behaviour resulting in sound change. Processes account for all
these types of behaviour and more: they also account for
implicational universals by substituting the implying sound by
the implied one. The task of NP, then, is a constant search for
processes in the languages of the world.
To sum up, and according to Nathan and Donegan (2011: 1)
phonological processes are phonetically motivated and
universal, but their application is limited through language
learning. As the inhibitions on processes change, pronunciations
and speaker abilities change, leading to changes in learners’
perceptions and representations. Natural Phonology accounts for
the traditional notions of splits, mergers, rephonemicizations,
chains, and typological changes through changes in these
3.1 The Evolution
As all theories, Natural Phonology has evolved and changed
over the years since its inception in the 1960s and 1970s. The
type of explanation offered by NP originated in a variety of
phonetic and phonological studies of the 19th and 20th century
(Maddieson, 2006: 80-100). Its basic thesis was that
phonological systems are phonetically motivated. NP was
proposed as an alternative to both structural and generative
approaches to phonology current at the time. The theory grew
into a large explanatory framework of Natural Linguistics due to
the works of Wolfgang U. Dressler (Dressler, 1985: 29-50) and
Modern Natural Phonology (MNP) has many facets, and
although the main tenet has remained valid, its interpretations
may vary. Still more importantly, MNP has a much wider
perspective, reaching far into the areas of external evidence and
relying on a solid functional and semiotic foundation. It is no
longer true to say that “natural phonology (...) lacks any a priori
methodology or formalization” (Donegan and Stampe, 1979:
Roca and Johanson (1999: 695) remark that NP is
"spontaneously present in children in the absence of influence
from marked input from the language of the environment".
Crystal (1997: 297) describes the natural processes of NP as
Natural processes are a set of universal
obligatory inviolable rules which govern the
phonology of a language. They are said to be
"natural" because they are phonetically plausible, in terms of the properties of the vocal
tract, as evidenced by their tendency to appear
similarly in a wide range of language.
Stampe (1979: 1) looks at phonological processes as mental
operations that apply in speech to substitute for a class of sounds
or sound sequences presenting a specific common difficulty to
the speech capacity of the individual, an alternative class
identical but lacking the difficult property. This indication
seems to incorporate the basic thesis of the theory that "the
living sound patterns of languages, in their development in each
individual as well as their evolution over the centuries, are
governed by forces implicit in human vocalization and
perception"(Donegan and Stampe, 1979: 126).
Donegan and Stampe (1979: 127) advocate the idea that this
theory is natural in that it is a natural reflection of the needs,
capacities and world of its users rather than a merely
conventional institution. NP is intended to explain its subject
matter to show that it follows naturally from the nature of
Donegan and Stampe (1979: 178) stress the idea that NP
properly excludes the topic of unmotivated and morphologically
motivated alternations which have often been lumped together
with natural alternations in Generative Phonology (GN). Clark
and Yallop (1995: 404) argue that Stampe appears to turn GP on
its head for "what we thought of as processes are motivated by
the nature of production and perception".
Natural phonologists have used the term 'process' to refer to
a natural phonetic constraint, i.e., a constraint which simplifies
articulation. Schane (1973:116) states that the natural
phonological processes of NP are in line with natural segment
types. For example, a rule which nasalizes vowels preceding
nasal consonants is more expected than one nasalizing vowels in
word-final position and a rule which inserts a vowel between
two consonants is more natural than one inserting a consonant in
Sommerstein (1977: 233) purports that natural processes are
modified in four ways:
1. Some natural processes are suppressed as in the process that
makes all English consonants occlusive (-a speech sound that
involves a closure of the vocal tract), which would permit only
stops and nasals.
2. Some natural processes are limited by the addition or
tightening of contextual restrictions.
3. Some natural processes become subject to ordering
constraints which limit their applicability as genuine ordering
4. The addition of learnt rules.
Sommerstein (Ibid: 135) assumes that learnt rules may be
optional, but this optionality is not related to speech and style of
speech and they never apply to constrain the shape of lexical
representations. Learnt rules can be suspended by conscious
effort; thus, in the case of velar softening, a form like
electri[k]ity is not hard to pronounce.
Donegan and Stampe (1979: 136-44) conceptualize the basic
tenets of NP in terms of four main items:
1. Processes do apply in ways that follow from their nature.
Three types are elicited here: i) Prosodic processes, ii) Fortition
processes and iii) Lenition processes.
Prosodic processes is concerned with mapping words, phrases
and sentences onto prosodic structures and patterns of rhythm
and intonation; all other processes like stress, length, tone and
syllabicity are determined by prosodic mapping which may be
described as an operation in real-time speech processing.
Fortition processes enhance clarity in that they intensify the
salient features of individual segments and/or their contrast with
adjacent segments (as in dissimilation). They make the segments
they affect more pronounceable as well as more perceptible, that
is why they are called strengthening processes (e.g., devoicing
of obstruents), adjusting the timing of movements so as to have
the effect of inserting a new sound (sense [sens] becomes
[sents]) or making a non-syllabic consonant syllabic (prayed
[preid] → [pṛeid]).
Lenition processes, on the other side, enhance fluency. They
are termed weak processes since they make segments and
sequences of segments easier to pronounce by decreasing the
articulatory 'distance' between features of the segment itself or
its adjacent segment. For example, weakening a sound: making
a stop into a fricative between vowels; decreasing the contrast of
a sound with a neighboring sound: assimilation, harmony;
adjusting the timing of movements so as to have the effect of
deleting a sound: cents [sents]→[sens]; or of making a syllabic
consonant non-syllabic: parade [pṛeid] → [preid].
It is claimed that fortitions increase intelligibility for the
hearer, but that they often have the concomitant effect of easing
pronounceability; lenitions, on the other hand, have this latter
effect as their exclusive goal. The effect of fortitions become
salient in slower, more formal speech style, while lenitions are
more likely to operate in faster, more colloquial styles (Bruck et
al. 1974 and Stampe, 1979).
Katamba (1989: 114) has reproduced a commonly accepted
phonological strength hierarchy (> indicates a step towards a
(a) VOICELESS > VOICED
(b) STOP > AFFRICATE > FRICATIVE > APPROXIMANT >
2. Processes represent responses to phonetic difficulties. It
follows that a certain difficult representation undergoes a
3. Processes operate on "natural classes" of segments.
4. All natural classes cannot be explained as a matter of
cognitive simplicity in the question of a rule provided that there
are certain constraints to be taken into consideration.
The following are examples of processes:
a) Consonant clusters are reduced to single segments; fly [flai]
b) Ustressed syllables are deleted; potato [p'teitou] becomes
c) Voiced stops (e.g., [b], [d] are made voiceless ([p], [t]) since
the airflow required by voicing is interrupted by the fact of
complete closure of the vocal tract.
d) Consonants produced with the tongue body (e.g., [k], [g]
become articulated with the tongue blade [t], [d] respectively).
3.3 Processes and Rules
Processes are "of the speaker"; Rules are "of the language".
Nathan and Donegan (2011: 1) purport that the distinction of
‘process’ vs. ‘rule’ is an old one, related to Baudouin’s
(1972/1895) distinction between divergence vs. correlation,
Sapir’s (1921, 1925) mechanical vs. grammatical processes,
Bloomfield’s (1933) and Wells’ (1947) automatic vs.
nonautomatic alternations, and Jakobson (1968) and Bazell’s
(1955) motivated and unmotivated alternations. In some
important respects, this correlates quite closely with the
traditional Neogrammarian contrast of sound law vs. analogy.
Some processes may govern phonological alternations.
However, not all alternations arise from the operation of
processes. Thus, in English, when "electric" takes the suffix
"-ity" its final /k/ becomes /s/ (velar softening), when "serene"
takes the suffix "-ity", the long [i:] becomes short [e] (trisyllabic laxing). The principles governing these alternations are
called "Rules''. These rules typically operate in selective fashion
(not all /k/ phonemes become /s/ when followed by written 'i' or
'e'), they are sensitive to grammatical considerations, and may
tolerate exceptions ("obese' [ əu'bi:s] retains long [i:] in "obesity
[əʊbiːsəti]), even though tri-syllabic laxing would be expected
Processes operate across the board with no exceptions, rules
typically apply within grammatically words. Rules need to be
learnt, processes are unlearnt (Bruck et al. 1974 and Stampe,
In this NP approach, a sharp distinction is drawn between
rules and processes. The term RULE is used to refer to
phonetically wholly or partially unmotivated alternations which
are governed by the conventions of a particular language.
PROCESSES are alternations which are regulated by universal
phonetic or functional factors. Unlike processes, rules are
idiosyncratic properties of particular languages and do not form
part of humankind's common phonological inheritance. Natural
processes are more common than idiosyncratic rules. Donegan
and Stampe (1979:127) claim that natural phonology 'follows
naturally from the nature of things' because essentially
phonological patterning is not merely a matter of convention.
In Luganda, for instance, we find /p / alternating sometimes
with |j] and sometimes with [w], which is extraordinary. It is
very odd for a bilabial voiceless stop to have palatal and labiovelar approximants as its allophones. Allophones of the same
phoneme ought to be phonetically similar; these sounds have
very little in common.
The fact that [p, j, w] are in complementary distribution is
strange. But we can easily write a rule stating their distribution:
/p / becomes:
(i) [j] when followed by [i] and not preceded by a nasal;
(ii) [w] when followed by any other vowel provided it is not
preceded by a nasal;
(iii) where it is preceded by a nasal, it is realised as [p]
regardless of the vowel that follows it.
p > ph > h > j or w (depending on the following vowel)
4. Phonemes are not Features
In natural phonology, phonemes are speech sounds–recurring
units of perception, representation and intention(Nathan and
Donegan, 2011: 7). Phonemes are sounds as perceived, this
means that they are auditory/motor images of sounds per se
[ pə'sei ], not abstract specifications for sounds. Thus,
contrary to what is usually believed in most (but not all)
generative phonologies, phonemes are not ‘merely’ lists of
features. And particularly, they are not underspecified lists
of features. It is important to how NP works [sic] that phonemes
are real (although mental) sounds, fully specified. What makes
them phonemes, rather than just records of how speakers
actually speak, is the existence of processes. Phonemes are
very rarely pronounced as stored, but instead are modified
either to fit their environments (lenitions) or in contrast to their
(fortitions). Phonemes are specific mental
targets, so that we could imagine pronouncing a phoneme such
as /i/, whereas a specification such as [V, +hi, -back] is not
pronounceable, and hence, not what NP means by a phoneme,
because the feature list lacks specifications for nasality,
tenseness, length and so on. A Natural Phonology phoneme is
fully specified for all possible features—it’s just that when it
is actually pronounced in context it doesn’t necessarily come
out that way.
It is this particularly intricate, and detailed view of how
speech perception and production works that determines NP’s
view of the phoneme. Stampe (1969) argued that perception is
not mere recording of external events, but rather, at least for the
perception of human action, is a perception of the intention of
Stampe (1969, 1987) presented arguments that the alphabet
of the phonology and the grammatical rules is the inventory of
phonemes of a language; he had discovered a way of accounting
for the existence of phoneme inventories purely in terms of the
interaction of context-free (usually fortitive) and contextsensitive (usually lenitive) processes. Fortitions enhance the
phonetic features of individual segments, and they may result in
fewer categories, constraining the phoneme inventory:
(1a) [V +pal ] → [+high] maximizes palatality (and bars /e ɛ æ a/).
(1b) [+cont] → [−nas] maximizes quality (bars nasal vowels etc.).
(1c)[−son, −cont] → [−voi] maximizes obstruency (and bars /b d g/)
Lenitions optimize sequences and, unless they happen to
neutralize an opposition, they multiply the variety of output
sounds. For example:
(2a) [V] → [−high] /__ [−high] creates [e o] in some contexts.
(2b) [+son] → [+nasal] / [+nasal] creates nasal vowels in some
(2c) [ ] → [+voi] / [+voi] __ [+voi] creates [b d ɡ] in some
Lenitions (Donegan and Stampe, 2009: 14) include assimilation
as well as ‘weakenings’ of various sorts. They reduce the
magnitude or number of articulatory gestures and may relax the
timing requirements of the gestural score.
If both opposing processes (1a, 2a), or (1b, 2b), or (1c, 2c)
(3a) */e/ is ruled out of the phoneme inventory, and [e] before a
uvular is perceived and remembered as /i/. That is, [e] is an
allophone of /i/.
(3b) Nasalized vowels are allophones of their plain counterparts.
(3c) */b/ is ruled out of the phoneme inventory, and [b] between
vowels is perceived and remembered as /p/. That is, [b] is an
allophone of /p/.
5. Markedness and Naturalness
Markedness is one aspect of distinctive feature theory that
seems to have more direct clinical applicability and can be
found in later theoretical constructs is the concept of naturalness
and markedness. They can be seen as two ends of a continuum.
1) the relative simplicity of a sound production
2) its high frequency of occurrence in languages
3) earlier acquisition.
So, more natural sounds are those that are considered easier to
produce and occur in many languages. Markedness, on the other
hand, refers to sounds that are relatively more difficult to
produce and are found less frequently in languages: for example,
[b] is unmarked (natural), while [ʧ] is marked.
The concept of markedness was first elaborated by Prague
School, and today it plays a central role in generative
The opposition between marked and unmarked is often
defined as follows:
Appears in few grammars
Later in language acquisition
Subject to neutralization
Early loss in language deficit
Implies unmarked feature
Harder to articulate
Perceptually more salient
Appears in more grammars
Earlier in language acquisition
Late loss in language deficit
Implied by marked feature
Easier to articulate
Perceptually less salient
From the markedness point of view, sounds are described in the
- voiceless obstruents = unmarked in comparison with voiced
- obstruents vs. sonorants
- stops vs. fricatives
- fricatives vs. affricates
- anterior Cs vs. non-anterior Cs
- Cs without secondary articulation vs. Cs with it
- front unrounded Vs and back rounded vs. front rounded and
back unrounded Vs
- oral Vs vs. nasalized Vs
5.1 Consonants and Obstruents
- found in 100% of languages
- 99% of languages have stops in three places of articulation:
bilabial, dental/alveolar, and velar (exceptions: Hawaiian – no
dental/alveolar stops; Aleut, Cherokee, Oneida and Tlingit – no
Voicing: most basic type of stop is the voiceless unaspirated,
then voiced unaspirated.
Voicing and place of articulation:
Bilabial stops do not necessarily follow the implication
voiced>voiceless: a language can have a /b/ without having a
/p/. A system like this is thus not unusual:
On the other hand, it is very difficult to find a language with the
reverse trend, having /p/ and /g/ without having /k/ and /b/:
This is related to voicing aerodynamics.
Stops are also found in retroflex, palatal, uvular, and glottal
places of articulation.
The existence of these stops presupposes the existence of stops
in the common three places of articulation. The abrupt release
that is required for a stop articulation is not easy in the palatal/
palato-alveolar place. This is due to the dome-shaped
configuration of the upper surface of the palate, and as a result,
languages more commonly have affricates, instead of stops, in
this place of articulation.
Language acquisition: 3 year olds - correct production of stops
= more than 90%
Pathology: adults with cerebral palsy - correct production of
stops = more than 80%
More than 90% of languages have at least one fricative. The
most frequent are sibilant fricatives /s/, then /f/ and /ʃ/. The
voiced/voiceless contrast in fricatives is likely to be seen in
systems with four or more fricatives: /f, v, s, and z/
Non-sibilant fricatives (bilabial and interdental) favour voicing
(> salient): among 32 languages that have bilabial fricatives, 24
have /β/ without /ɸ/, and among 21 languages that have
interdental fricatives, 12 have /ð/ without /θ/.
Language acquisition: fricatives are not acquired early by
children and undergo the process of stopping in early stages. But
when they start coming into a child’s system, /f/ is produced
more correctly than /s/.
Summary for obstruents:
Voiceless are more common than voiced
Preference for the place of articulation varies:
Rumanian = most common pattern:
- six stops in three most common places of articulation, paired
- affricates – palatal and alveolar
- six fricatives in the three most favored places of articulation,
paired in voicing
Danish and Norwegian:
- stops – Norwegian adds retroflex stops to its inventory
- fricatives: the six fricatives of Danish are not all paired in
voicing; Norwegian – no voiced counterparts to its four
All sonorants are unmarkedly voiced:
Nasals: languages have at least one nasal dental/ alveolar
sound /n/. In fact, the more typical pattern is to have more than
one nasal. After dental/ alveolar place of articulation, the
priority goes to bilabial, then velar, palatal, retroflex and uvular.
Liquids: laterals and r-sounds.
Laterals – dental/ alveolar place of articulation
r-sounds – trills, taps/flaps = dental alveolar; approximants =
Glides: /j/, then /w/
6. Conclusion and Summary
Wojcik (1981: 644) postulates that Natural phonology
represents a new approach not only to phonology, but also to the
entire linguistic system. Most linguists who read Stampe's work
have trouble understanding it, because it represents a different
conception of language from the ones they are familiar with.
Natural phonology (Stampe, 1969) incorporates features of
naturalness theories and it was designed to explain the
development of the child’s phonological system. This theory
postulates that patterns of speech are governed by an innate,
universal set of phonological features and processes. These
universal natural processes are operating as children use and
organize their phonological systems. All children begin with
innate speech patterns but must progress to the language-
specific system that characterizes their native language: a child’s
innate phonological system is continuously revised in the
direction of the adult phonological system. Disordered
phonology is seen as an inability to realize this.
A phoneme in NP is an underlying intention shared by the
speaker and the listener. The shared knowledge of intentions
guarantees communication between the speaker and the listener
within a given language, even if the actually pronounced forms
diverge substantially from what is intended
Phonological processes that are common in the speech
development of children across languages = natural processes:
1) syllable structure processes = sound changes that affect the
structure of the syllable:
ƒ - cluster reduction (spoon [pun])
ƒ - reduplication (water [wawa])
ƒ - weak syllable deletion (banana [nænə])
- final consonant deletion (head [hɛ])
2) substitution and simplification processes (street [stwit], key
[ti], thumb [tʌm] or [sʌm], noon [dud])
3) assimilation processes (dog [gɑg], yellow [lɛlow])
Natural phonology differs from other phonological theories
in the following points: the meaning and use of the term
‘underlying form’ is different. Within generative grammar, UR
are abstract entities, they represent assumed points of
reference that are necessary for the explanation of the many
possible surface forms. In Natural Phonology, UR is the adult
norm that is the intended goal for children’s production efforts.
According to Natural Phonology, phonological processes are
steps in the gradual articulatory adjustment of children’s speech
to the adult norm. This implies a chronology of phonological
processes, specific ages at which the process could be operating
and when it should be suppressed.
Children with phonological disorders use phonological
processes somewhat differently than normally developing
children. They show age-inappropriate processes as well as
processes that are not acceptable for the adult language they are
1) persisting normal processes (reduplication, final consonant
deletion at the age of 4)
2) chronological mismatch (pronounces [s, z] but substitutes [t]
3) systematic sound preference (one phonetic realization for
several phonemes: substitution of [d] for [s, z, ʃ, ʒ, ʧ, ʤ])
4) unusual processes (individual cases)
5) variable use of processes (pronunciation of sounds in some
cases and their simplification in others - unpredictability: soup
[tup], sun [tʌn] but soap [sowp], saw [sɑ]; or several variants for
one phoneme: cake [teit], wagon [waden], bake [bei], Maggie
[maʔi]). The variable use of processes may be expected in the
speech of children with phonological disorders.
Phonological processes are the central aspect of natural
phonology. They have been extensively used to describe
disordered speech patterns and to select treatment goals.
The speech of children with disordered phonological
systems show differences in kind and use of phonological
processes when compared to the speech of children with
normally developing systems.
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