[Lingtyp] What's the point of the phonological phrase?

TALLMAN Adam Adam.TALLMAN at cnrs.fr
Mon Dec 30 00:41:44 UTC 2019

Hello all,

In an article written for the collected volume ‘Sounds of Silence: Empty Elements in Syntax and Phonology” edited by Hartmann et al. (2008, Elsevier), Scheer states in a footnote

“mapping is still poorly understood, and rules appear to be inflational as much as anarchic: no relevant pattern seems to emerge” (Scheer 2008: 157)

This is about mapping rules from morphosyntactic constituency to prosodic structure and it seems to be true. So, what’s the point of the mapping rules if they can do anything? A conclusion I would draw from this is that positing phonological words and phrases are basically theoretically vacuous terminological conventions. In writing my dissertation I thought that describing tone sandhi rules directly in terms of all the possible junctures where the relevant sandhi processes occur was a more transparent (and less pretentious) way of describing the empirical phenomena. Furthermore, building a matrix that defined all of those junctures in terms of the relevant categories in the syntax forced me to look at the question systematically, whereas this was not the case for my "phonological phrase" based on a yet-to-be-defined and apparently theoretically vacuous mapping rule. Saying that the junctures were in fact really in the domain of a phonological phrase seemed pointless, because the mapping rules would just be idiosyncratic redescriptions of the junctures.

I think descriptivists have the impression that using terms like phonological word and phonological phrase makes their descriptions “typologically informed” in some sense. I think the opposite is true if there are no accepted mapping rules and no accepted understanding of what the morphosyntactic structure from which the mapping rules are defined is supposed to be. In the end a typology of morphosyntactic/phonological domains etc. that tries to capture the relevant phenomena with “mapping” will have to relate phonological domain back to how it maps from/onto morphosyntactic structure based on typologically comparable wordhood / constituent domains. Positing mapping rules apriori in descriptions does not achieve this goal and makes such a typology more difficult. A detailed description that discusses how a given rule applies at every possible  or available juncture in the morphosyntax (even if crucial reference is made to phonological words because there is some type of prominence layering) is better if we want our typology or our theories to be empirically responsible and our descriptions to be comparable.

Has anyone actually argued against Scheer’s statement about the anarchy of mapping rules?

Why might the concept of a phonological phrase be more than a terminological convention in a grammatical description of a language?  In what sense is positing such a category useful for typologists?

>From a typological or theoretical standpoint, what predictions are actually being made by positing “the phonological phrase” apart from “there is some morphophonological process that I can conceptualize as domain based that is higher than what I defined as a phonological word”?


Adam James Ross Tallman (PhD, UT Austin)
ELDP-SOAS -- Postdoctorant
CNRS -- Dynamique Du Langage (UMR 5596)
Bureau 207, 14 av. Berthelot, Lyon (07)
Numero celular en bolivia: +59163116867
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/lingtyp/attachments/20191230/97425e08/attachment.htm>

More information about the Lingtyp mailing list