The evolution of phonology

Peter F. MacNeilage

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 evolution of phonology

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  • Linguistics
  • Language Evolution
  • Phonetics and Phonology



This article focuses on the evolution of phonology over the years. The most comprehensive investigation of the innateness hypothesis in phonology is that undertaken by Mielke regarding the common claim that there is a small finite set of universal innate distinctive features that can describe the sound patterns participating in what are called phonological processes of all languages. He points out that the multiple sounds often participate in the same sound pattern. When a group of these sounds exhibits the same behavior it is often the case that these sounds are phonetically similar to each other. This type of grouping of sounds is termed a natural class. Syllabic “sonority” is considered to be an innate mental principle revealed by the fact that the loudest sound in a syllable is the vowel, and sonority then tends to decrease as the distance from the vowel of a preceding or a following consonant in the same syllable increases. The pattern can be attributable to peripheral biomechanics rather than mental structure. The concept of “markedness” is considered to involve another innate mental principle. The discipline of phonology has contributed an enormous amount of valuable information about the sound patterns of language.

Keywords: phonology; concept of markedness; sound patterns; language; syllables

Article.  5184 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution ; Phonetics and Phonology

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