Phonology without universal grammar

Diana Archangeli, Douglas Pulleyblank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The question of identifying the properties of language that are specific human linguistic abilities, i.e., Universal Grammar, lies at the center of linguistic research. This paper argues for a largely Emergent Grammar in phonology, taking as the starting point that memory, categorization, attention to frequency, and the creation of symbolic systems are all nonlinguistic characteristics of the human mind. The articulation patterns of American English rhotics illustrate categorization and systems; the distribution of vowels in Bantu vowel harmony uses frequencies of particular sequences to argue against Universal Grammar and in favor of Emergent Grammar; prefix allomorphy in Esimbi illustrates the Emergent symbolic system integrating phonological and morphological generalizations. The Esimbi case has been treated as an example of phonological opacity in a Universal Grammar account; the Emergent analysis resolves the pattern without opacity concerns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1229
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - Sep 4 2015


  • English
  • Esimbi
  • emergent properties
  • linguistics
  • morphology of words
  • phonology
  • ultrasound and language
  • universal grammar

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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