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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


ZONNEVELD, Wim. Phonology and Afrikaans - from rules to parameters to constraints. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2011, vol.51, n.4, pp.730-745. ISSN 2224-7912.

To theoretically inclined linguists, the past half century has been a period of considerable significance: there is virtually perfect overlap with the period of the introduction (in the second half of the 1950s and 1960s) and subsequent growth and systematic development of "generative", "Chomskian" linguistics. As is well-known, this framework is characterized by an emphasis on the discovery and formulation of universals: essentially it is the study of Universal Grammar, enhanced by the in-depth investigations of individual languages, and comparative research involving several languages. This study is closely linked to the demand that any generative theory should contribute to an explanation of the process of first language acquisition, one of whose most striking characteristics is the acquisition of a grammar based on excessively poor input. The difference is hypothesized to be bridged by an inborn language acquisition device, which itself is equated with Universal Grammar. Against this background, this contribution provides a sketch of theoretical developments within the 50 year period, in the study of generative phonology. Three well-known stages are addressed: that of the rule-based framework in the 1960s and 1970s, that of the combination of autosegmental phonology and Principles and Parameters theory in the 1980s, and finally that of Optimality Theory in the 1990s, up until the present day. Each of these frameworks has a solidly generative foundation, but the discussion specifically addresses why and how one theory became the successor to the other, where arguments typically revolve around issues concerning Universal Grammar and language acquisition. In order to facilitate the exposition, one constant of the discussion is the empirical material used as an illustration for each stage. This has been taken from Afrikaans, and concerns two phonological phenomena, shared with for instance Dutch, involving the feature [voice]: Final obstruent Devoicing (Auslautsverskerping) and obstruent Voice Assimilation (Stemassimilasie). These phenomena have been well-described for Afrikaans (in work by Wissing), one of the more interesting aspects of their coexistence being their interaction in words. In addition, however, theoretical developments, as they tend to do, resulted in new claims about further interacting phenomena, in this case claims about progressive devoicing, which - to different degrees and in different kinds - is also a property of the phonologies of both Dutch and Afrikaans, fi rst discussed for the latter language in work by Wissing and Du Plessis in the early 1990s. Discussion of these decidedly productive phenomena takes place against the theoretical claim that these processes must probably be considered examples of "peripheral rules" (in the Principles and Parameters framework) or require a special treatment, possibly an appeal to a combination of Optimality Theory and Cognitive Grammar (Van Rooy, in his 1999 dissertation) or to a special type of Optimality constraint interaction (Zonneveld, in an extension to Afrikaans of proposals put forward previously for Dutch). Hence, this principally historical sketch also enables us to show that Afrikaans is a language of considerable theoretical-phonological interest, and increasingly so.

Keywords : assimilation (of voice); Cognitive Grammar; (the) feature [voice]; Final obstruent Devoicing; Generative Grammar; historical development (in phonology); language acquisition; language-specific grammar; linguistics; Optimality Theory; phonetic representation; phonological component; phonology; Principles & Parameters; Progressive devoicing; rule-based framework; Universal Grammar.

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