Why the search for rarities should take phonology seriously
Pavel Iosad
September 2023

What is a phonological rarity? Answering this question requires both a clear understanding of what counts as “a phonological phenomenon”, and a determination of baseline frequencies for “common” or “rare” phenomena. I argue that addressing both of these issues requires us to take seriously current views on the division of labour in phonological theory, particularly within an “amphichronic” view (Kiparsky 2006, Bermúdez-Otero 2015). Since the study of rarities is ultimately a typological enterprise, I focus on examining how typological enquiry should take into account the precise analytical status of the phenomena in question. To do so, I offer two case studies on the phonological typology of laryngeal contrast: the relationship between phonemic analysis and phonetic implementation, with a focus on the relatively rare systems that lack laryngeal contrast in obstruents, and the unusual status of preaspiration. In both cases, I argue that a theoretically informed approach significantly enriches our understanding of the typological variation. In conclusion, I outline a programmatic case for a phonological typology that is both theoretically grounded and explicitly diachronically oriented, in line with developments in morphosyntactic typology. I suggest that this approach is necessary to give us a clearer view of what is most appropriately treated as a rarity. More generally, a theoretically informed approach to cross-linguistic variation may assist us in incorporating the very significant recent advances in distributional and diachronic typology into explanatory models of phonology.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/007577
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: To appear in Cormac Anderson, Shelece Easterday & Natalia Kuznetsova (eds.), Rarities in phonetics and phonology: Evolutionary, structural, typological and social dimensions. Berlin: Language Science Press.
keywords: phonology
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