The null-hypotheses of “syllable structure”


Péter Szigetvári (Budapest)


Government phonology is perhaps the best-known, though not the first, theory of phonological representation to apply empty categories. The notion has evoked copious criticism, primarily because of its unnaturalness. I criticize government phonology not because it has empty categories but because it does not have enough of them.


I will show that _if_ we allow empty skeletal positions in our theory -- a move that both the autosegmental model of phonological organization and the unary-feature model of melodic representation (a logical conclusion of underspecification theory) make feasible -- , the coda becomes superfluous, and syllable structure reduces to strictly alternating C and V positions (cf. Lowenstamm 1996 and many following studies). In effect, this means that syllable structure as such vanishes. A very similar conclusion can be drawn by building up a model of syllable structure proceeding from the simplest, CV-only inventories to more complex systems. I will thus argue that there exist two null- hypotheses of syllable structure: either skeletons faithfully represent superficial sound strings, or skeletal positions may be empty, in which case CVCV skeletons are the null-hypothesis. Standard government phonology (as discussed in Kaye & al. 1990 or Harris 1994) incorporates an unnecessary deviation by allowing onsets, nuclei and rhymes to branch; in other words, it fails to draw the logical conclusion of introducing empty categories into the phonological representation.




Harris, John. 1994. English sound structure. Oxford: Blackwell.


Kaye, Jonathan, Jean Lowenstamm and Jean-Roger Vergnaud. 1990. Constituent structure and government in phonology. Phonology 7: 193--232.


Lowenstamm, Jean. 1996. CV as the only syllable type. In Jacques Durand and Bernard Laks (eds.), Current trends in phonology: Models and methods. European Studies Research Institute, University of Salford Publications. 419--442.