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The Prague Phonological School

Theoretical Phonetics

Lecture 1

Introduction into Phonology and Phonetics. Pre-structuralism.

The sound structure of a language can be studied from the phonological (or functional) and phonetic points of view.

The phonological aspect characterizes function of sound units, of structures made up by those units and their relationships, as well as sound regularities in language and speech.

The phonetic aspect characterizes the same units, etc. from articulatory, acoustic and auditory point of view.

Thus one can speak of a functional approach with reference to phonology and of a physical and physiological approaches when referring to phonetics.

One of the prominent linguists who prepared the grounds for phonology was I.A.Baudouin de Courtenay (1845-1929). He was the first to make a distinction between sound as mere phonation (which is variable) and phoneme as a psychological equivalent of sound (which is permanent and invariable). This is the mentalist ( or psychologistic) approach to the definition of phoneme.


Lectures 2, 3

The Prague Phonological School

One of the founders of the Prague school N.S. Trubetzkoy (1890-1938), his follower R. Jakobson (1896-1982) defined phonemes as sets of distinctive features. With the concept of the phoneme the idea of discreteness of sound units was established: the phoneme as a cluster of distinctive features is discrete and invariant, but its realization may vary.


The importance of Trubetzkoy's works in the sphere of phonology is in creating a taxonomy of distinctive features (DFs) and systemizing phonological oppositions, based upon such features.


N.Trubetzkoy put forward three criteria for classifying phonological oppositions:

1. their relationship with the other oppositions of the same system;

2. the relationship between the members of the same opposition;

3. the extent of their distinctive force in different positions.


According to these criteria the following types of oppositions were distinguished:

a) bilateral and multilateral oppositions;

b) privative, gradual and equipollent oppositions;

c) constant and neutralizable oppositions.


N.Trubetzkoy defines the notion "phoneme" through the analysis of the notion "sound opposition" and the notion "phonological unit". A sound opposition may be phonological and nonphonological. The phonological unit is each member of the phonological opposition. Thus according to N.Trubetzkoy phonemes are "phonological units which from the point of view of a particular language are further indivisible into smaller consecutive segments" [Трубецкой 2000: 41].

Each phoneme is to be a member of some phonological opposition. It means that the phoneme is identical not with a particular sound but it is identified as a cluster of phonologically relevant features of a sound.


Trubetzkoy's most prominent monograph "Principles of Phonology" was published in 1939 (in the German language). Here one can find the main ideas of the Prague Phonological School.


R.Jakobson determined the development of phonology by demonstrating the possibility of presenting all types of oppositions and distinctive features as binary. The principle of binarism as the inherent principle of linguistic relationships was put forward by Jakobson in 1938 in the article "Notes on the phonological classification of consonants".


In 1951 R.Jakobson and his co-workers G.Fantand M.Halle elaborated a compact inventory of DFs summing up several acoustic and articulatory features of a similar nature. This inventory was declared to be finite, i.e. representing all the contrasts that can be found in a language. Any language "selects" its own distinctions from this universal inventory of DFs.

In the inventory four major classes of sounds were presented:

1. consonants;

2. vowels;

3. glides (semivowels);

4. liquids.


This system of DFs is universal, all distinctive features are presented as binary, they are defined in acoustic terms, which allowed to specify both vowels and consonants in terms of the same features.

Lecture 4

Date: 2015-12-24; view: 417

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