The emergence of phonetic form

Michael Studdert‐Kennedy

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199541119
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 The emergence of phonetic form

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  • Linguistics
  • Language Evolution
  • Phonetics and Phonology


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The human hands, face, and vocal machinery have evolved as finely differentiated parts as compared to other primates due to the two phenomena that includes child development and computational modeling. Infants imitate face and hand action as well as speech. All three modalities may share a common evolutionary path to organ differentiation through imitation. Facial imitation is unique among the three because infants can neither see the face they feel nor feel the face they see, so that imitation must be mediated by an intermodal representation. Language, spoken or signed, evidently requires an integral anatomical system of discrete, independently activated parts that can be coordinated to effect rapid sequences of expressive global action. Consonants are specified by acoustic trajectories, formed by gestural combinations of varying degrees of complexity. Lindblom's proposed a modified dispersal algorithm to predict consonant-vowel (CV) syllable trajectories by means of a cost/benefit ratio (articulatory cost/perceptual discriminability) summed and minimized over a system of syllable trajectories such as might appear in a small lexicon. Lindblom's work offers the most comprehensive computational model so far available of how systems of discrete gestures, phonemes, and syllables may have emerged by self-organization under perceptuomotor constraints from an evolved vocal tract.

Keywords: vocal machinery; computational modeling; child development; gestural combinations; consonants

Article.  2049 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution ; Phonetics and Phonology

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