Sound systems are shaped by their users

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Computational experiments were run using an optimization criterion based on independently motivated definitions of perceptual contrast, articulatory cost and learning cost. The question: If stop+vowel inventories are seen as adaptations to perceptual, articulatory and developmental constraints what would they be like? Simulations successfully predicted typologically widely observed place preferences and the re-use of place features (‘phonemic coding’) in voiced stop inventories. These results demonstrate the feasibility of user-based accounts of phonological facts and indicate the nature of the constraints that over time might shape the formation of both the formal structure and the intrinsic content of sound patterns. While phonetic factors are commonly invoked to account for substantive aspects of phonology, their explanatory scope is here also extended to a fundamental attribute of its formal organization: the combinatorial re-use of phonetic content. Keywords: phonological universals; phonetic systems; formal structure; intrinsic content; behavioral origins; substance-based explanation


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