How suprasegmental structure gets assigned and to what


Nikolaus Ritt (Vienna)


Like all serious theories of phonological structure, both Natural and  Government Phonology address the question how regularities in the  suprasegmental arrangement of phonological constituents are to be  described and explained. What both approaches have in common is that  they attempt to model mental rather than physiological and/or  physical phenomena. Interestingly, however, none of the two schools  dares to commit itself on the empirical interpretability of the  models they produce. Possibly wisely, they avoid the question how  their models might be materially implemented in human mind/brains.  Since nobody denies that they must be, however, it seems legitimate  to assume that there will indeed be constituents which implement  phonological information and which are physiologically real and  identifiable in principle.


This paper will assume that (a) the human mind/brain stores and  processes phonological information in terms of associative networks  (a view which goes back at least to Hermann Pauls Prinzipien der  Sprachgeschichte) and that (b) the some of the patterns in such  networks qualify as replicators in the sense of a generalised theory  of evolution. It will be shown that mental constituents 'for'  suprasegmental categories such as cluster types, syllabic shapes and  rhythmic configurations can be derived quite naturally from the self- evident assumption that associations among replicating constituents  of any type will be selected for and become evolutionarily stable, if  the replicators replicate better within such associations than on  their own.




Paul, Hermann, 19205: Prinzipien der Sprachgeschichte. Halle/Saale:  Niemeyer. Ritt, Nikolaus, 2004: Selfish sounds. Cambridge: University Press.