3: Abstractness in Phonology

Haukur Þorgeirsson (Reykjavík)

An unresolved issue in the lively phonological discourse in the seventies and eighties, starting with Chomsky and Halle’s Sound Pattern of English (1968), is the so-called abstractness problem, reflected in the title of Paul Kiparsky’s monograph: How
abstract is phonology?
(published in the same year). In this workshop we would like to coordinate contributions which touch on issues of abstractness in a rather general sense. Among the questions that we would like to keep in mind are the following:

  • Is the traditional phoneme (or segment for that matter) a legitimate abstraction?
  • Are forms with segments or features that do not surface in output legitimate as inputs to a system of phonological rules or constraints?
  • To what extent may phonology be “used” in order to account for allomorphy?
  • How (and in what sense) “psychologically real” are some of the “abstract” or “concrete” representations used in current phonology?
  • Does the distinction sometimes made between “morphophonemic” and “automatic” alternations reflect a real psychological division?
  • If phonology is regarded as a “mental module”, how does it interact with other mental modules?
  • What constitutes evidence one way or the other?
  • What does historical change tell us about phonological structure?

We hope, at the same time as the papers in the workshop keep these fundamental questions in mind, that individual case studies will contribute to the “body of linguistic fact” regarding phonological structure.