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      What’s wrong with being a rhotic?

      research-article
      1
      Glossa: a journal of general linguistics
      Ubiquity Press
      rhotics, phonetics, phonology, arbitrariness, phonetics-phonology interface

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          Abstract

          The class of rhotics is subject to extensive variation, and a reliable phonetic correlate has not been found. This variation is also why identifying a segment as a rhotic in an unknown language is not a trivial matter. In contrast to other phonological classes whose membership is attributed based on principled criteria, the set of rhotics is arbitrary. This article identifies two properties independent of phonetics which characterize rhotics cross-linguistically PROCEDURAL STABILITY—rhotics that are implicated in phonological processes can vary in a phonetically arbitrary manner without perturbing the process itself—and DIACHRONIC STABILITY: the phonetics of rhotics can vary in diachronic evolution without impact on their phonotactics. On the empirical side the article establishes a cross-linguistic survey of the phonetic variability of rhotics. It is also argued that the phonetic realization of a rhotic may be unpredictable and divorced from its phonological identity and this shows that languages are happy to instantiate an arbitrary phonetics-phonology relationship. Finally, it is argued that rhotics show that the interface which maps phonological objects to their phonetic instantiations is capable of handling an arbitrary relationship. Further, there is no reason to assume that this property of the interface is specific to rhotics; in principle, all phonetic and phonological categories could enter into an arbitrary relationship. This has important implications for theories which seek to impose phonetic or naturalness based constraints on phonology: it is difficult to see how the relationship between a phonetic object which has no obvious articulatory connection to its phonological representation could be considered phonetically natural. Rhotics thus provide support for the view of substance-free phonology whereby phonological objects are devoid of any reference to phonetic categories.

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          Most cited references76

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          The Blackwell Companion to Phonology

          (2011)
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            The Sounds of the World’s Languages

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              The Modularity of Mind

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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                2397-1835
                Glossa: a journal of general linguistics
                Ubiquity Press
                2397-1835
                18 March 2019
                2019
                : 4
                : 1
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Université Côte d’Azur, CNRS, UMR 7320: Bases, Corpus, Langage (BCL), Nice, FR
                Article
                10.5334/gjgl.618
                69109522-ec1f-4a7c-9283-f5d7f41d672c
                Copyright: © 2019 The Author(s)

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

                Categories
                Research

                General linguistics,Linguistics & Semiotics
                phonetics-phonology interface,arbitrariness,phonology,phonetics,rhotics

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