PLM21015 Thematic session: Does phonology have heads?

Conveners: Geoff Schwartz (UAM Poznan) and Shanti Ulfsbjorninn (University College London)

Descriptions of both syntactic and phonological structure frequently make reference to the term head to characterize the relationship between two or more features contained in a single linguistic domain - the head is always the 'more important' of the two entities. In syntax, this relationship appears to be relatively straightforward.

In phonology, on the other hand, defining 'headedness', if it even exists, is not so easy. One problem it is not clear exactly which phonological entities may serve as 'heads'. Some theories refer to obligatory items like vocalic nuclei, yet this definition may run afoul of phonetic and functional principles. Consonants clearly play a greater functional role than vowels in the formation of lexical contrasts, as anyone who has ever sent an abbreviated text message, or studied Semitic morphology, can attest. In Element Theory, it is common to claim that headedness is a fundamental principle of segmental representations, yet it is not clear how this relates to larger constituents. Metrical theory is another area in which the notion of the head may carry some meaning.

In keeping with the PLM leitmotif of ‘understanding linguistic concepts’, our session seeks to probe the question of headedness in phonology. We especially welcome abstracts that address the following questions:

  • Is headedness really a phonological property or can it be subsumed by other principles?
  • Which types of phonological entities is headedness relevant for?
  • Does headedness require binary structures?
  • What kind of evidence may be used to support or falsify claims of headedness?

Submission deadline for this session: 22 March 2015.

Sample references:

Backley, P. (2011). An Introduction to Element Theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Carr, P., J. Durand & C. Ewen (eds.). Headhood, Elements, Specification and Contrastivity. Phonological papers in honour of John Anderson. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Harris, J. & G. Lindsey (1995). The elements of phonological representation. In Jacques Durand & Francis Katamba (eds.), Frontiers of phonology: atoms, structures,derivations, 34-79. Harlow, Essex: Longman.

van de Weijer, J. (2008). An X-bar approach to the syllable structure of Mandarin. Lingua 118. 1416-1428.