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Reflections on “On the Phonetic Rules of Russian”

By Stephen R. Anderson


At a time when ideas of how phonology ought to be done are clearly changing, it is important to understand the kinds of thing that induce fundamental change in our science. In that spirit, I would like to examine here what we know—and equally, what we think we know—about another major change that took place within the relatively recent past in our thinking about sound structure. My theme is the role which is actually played in scientific change by intellectual argument, as opposed to more opportunistic considerations, and I am afraid my ultimate conclusions are less idealistic than one might wish. A sort of creation myth that I grew up with about the history of phonology has structuralists in America (and also in Europe) concentrating on the discovery of phonemes as minimal units of surface contrast through the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s. Then at the end of the 1950’s, Morris Halle presented some data from Russian (concerning voicing assimilation) from which it was clear that such a notion of phonemes was indefensible and led inevitably to loss of generality. As a result (with allowances for entrenched prejudices and the time necessary to re-tool), phonologists re-oriented their attention toward the previously marginalized domain of morphophonemics, and phonemics was replaced by generative phonology

Year: 2009
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