Phonology as human behavior: Theoretical implications and clinical applications

Yishai Tobin (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

This paper will be based on over twenty-years' experience teaching articulatory and acoustic phonetics to speech clinicians and audiologists according to the theory of Phonology as Human Behavior (PHB) (also known as Columbia School Phonology) (e.g. Diver 1979, Tobin 1997). The theory of PHB, developed by William Diver and his students combines and expands: (1) Saussure's (1916/1968) concept of sign and system; (2) aspects of the "communication factor" (including distinctive marked/unmarked articulatory and acoustic features) inherent in Prague School phonology with aspects of (3) the "human factor" (the asymmetry of phonological systems related to the concept of 'ease of articulation') inherent in Martinet's functional diachronic phonology (Martinet 1955). The theory is derived from the semiotic definition of language as a sign system used by human beings to communicate. The fundamental axiom underlying the theory is that language in general, and phonetics and phonology in particular, represent a constant and on-going struggle between the desire for maximum communication (the communication factor) with minimal effort (the human factor) (Tobin 1990). The major contribution of the theory of PHB is that it provides a "motivation" for and an explanation of the distribution of sounds within the speech signal: i.e. it tells us why the distribution of phonemes within a language, and in developmental and clinical phonology, is non-random. This paper will show how these principles can be applied by speech and audiology clinicians.


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. 1997. Phonology as Human Behavior: Theoretical implications and clinical applications . Durham, NC/London: Duke University Press.