Autosegmental phonology

Whether or not syllabification is a phonetic unit lies on whether or not syllabification is an independent structure, which interacts with other factors related to word margins and the substructures. However, as based on the statement made by Coetzee and McGowan that states that there are certain cues in the rules of syllabification wherein the perceptual system of a listener considers “different perceptual hypotheses that differ inter alia in syllable structure”(Coetzee & McGowan 2008, p. 1), we consider that syllabification is not a phonetic unit, since it has cues and interacts with other substructures apart from itself.

The autosegmental theory

This is in a way, also being reflected in the autosegmental theory, which reflects that “[t]here is close relationship between analysis of segments into distinctive features and an autosegmental analysis” (“Autosegmental phonology” 2009, p. 1). The restructuring and reorganization of the autosegments prove that there is relationship and interaction between the autosegments, as it tries to initiate that autosegments are in a way, independent because it processes on its own.

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(It is dependent also, as its actions react and depend entirely on other autosegments. ) This can be linked to the way we define suprasegmentals, which can be defined from the outset or from the process in their properties. Because we see syllabification as an independent structure that interacts with other factors in the processes, it relates that suprasegmentals follow the same path as that of syllabification. That it is a ‘fluid’ one, a categorical process that is real and linguistically relevant; thus, it cannot be a phonetic one.

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Suprasegmental and syllabification

However, when suprasegmentals are taken from the other point of view, that it is “any process we find occurring in a particular language when it displays certain general properties, either of distribution… [or] of behavior” (Goldsmith 1976, p. 12), we see that it becomes a phonetic one, as it relates to spoken language or speech sounds that are the properties of the term phonetic. How suprasegmentals and syllabification are each defined often lies on the manner on which it is being taken.

Because Bloch says that “a feature that is common to all the segments of a span is a feature of the span itself” (1948, p. 36), then it can be concluded that the feature in suprasegmentals and syllabification being phonetic or not lies on the feature of the autosegments and phonemes themselves. If each of the autosegments and phonemes can be proven to process on its own, it can be proven that the suprasegmentals and syllabification is independent and not a phonetic unit; otherwise it is most likely the opposite.

Based on the statement of Goldsmith, wherein he declared that “Features by themselves do not spread; they merely identify a segment for what it is” (1976, p. 22), it can be identified that features of suprasegmentals and phonemes do not spread, and whether or not it is independent or phonetic does not entirely affect the feature of the entire domain. What affects rather, is the spreading and multiplying of the autosegments to other domains. Since phonemes spread quite automatically, it forms and affects the feature of the segment itself by means of multiplication.

The autosegments function

Therefore, it leads to the conclusion that features can only be defined from the outset if proven that the autosegments function independently, since it is more consistent to assume suprasegmentals as any process occurring in particular language. In a paper that Amalia Gnanadesikan wrote entitled ‘Markedness and Faithfulness Constraints in Child Phonology’, she argues that “the constraint based Optimality theory provides a framework which allows for the development of a unified model of child and adult phonology and the relation between the two” (1995, p. 1).

She states that the ranking differs from language to language, making it a universal phenomenon that could bring great advancement to the society. Gnanadesikan argues that these constraints that are used in adult language should also be executed in child phonology as well. As Gnanadesikan stated, The process of acquisition is one of promoting the faithfulness constraints to approximate more and more closely the adult grammar, and produce more and more marked forms. The path of acquisition will vary from child to child, as different children promote the various faithfulness constrains in different orders.(Gnanadesikan 1995, p. 1)

The Optimality theory

With this, it appeals to the thought that the Optimality theory of Prince and Smolensky are quite effective, and that it can be used in developing ways relevant in promoting the theory of wellformedness even with a couple of presuppositions. However, child phonology would require another set of presuppositions more relevant to the matter at hand, and to come up with this new set of presuppositions requires work and research. The Universal Grammar and constraints however, would still be applicable, although the notion of parallel analysis would take a different approach and new settlement.

It is better to come up with a constraint that is applicable to all types of members of the society. Parallel analysis should apply to any given complexity or structure, and how the dimensions of these structure generates and relates is the thing required that would come up with a new approach for child phonology. “It is demonstrated,” he said, “that things cannot be otherwise: for, since everything was made for a purpose, everything is necessarily made for the best purpose. ” –Candide ou l’optimisme. Ch. I. (Prince & Smolensky 2002, p. i)


  1. “Autosegmental phonology”, (2009), (Wikipedia. com), Available:

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Autosegmental phonology. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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