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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 40  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 3-17

A critical review of phonological theories

Professor emeritus, California State University-Fresno, Fresno, United States

Correspondence Address:
Prof. M N Hegde
California State University-Fresno.
United States
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jose.JOSE_7_21

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This is a critical review of two major phonological theories: linear natural phonology and the nonlinear optimality theory. Natural phonological theory asserts that phonological processes are phonetically based. Phonological error patterns help organize treatment targets and assess generalization. However, the natural phonology’s explanation of speech sound learning in children does not attain the status of a scientific theory. Process proliferation and poor definitions are other limitations. Optimality theory proposes that speech sounds may be marked (complex, more difficulty to produce, etc.) or unmarked (simple, easier to produce, etc.). Optimality replaces rules with markedness and faithfulness constraints. Constraints are common to all languages, but their ranking are unique to each language. Speakers can violate constraints ranked lower, but not those ranked higher in their language. When speech is imminent, GEN the generator generates a variety of output (response) options and EVAL the evaluator selects an optimal output that is faithful to the higher-ranked constraints. There is no independent evidence for the existence of universal and innate constraints, specific language-based rankings, and the operation of GEN or EVAL. Assumptions of universality of phonological rules and even the existence of such rules are speculative. That children have innate phonological knowledge is an untenable assumption. Most generative phonological theories have little or no empirical validity. Investigations of child-directed speech, statistical learning, implicit learning, sociolinguistics, usage- and exemplar-based phonology and behavior analysis have all supported the view that children master their speech sounds (and language structures) through social interactions.

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