Natural and unnatural sound patterns: A pocket field guide

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Natural sound patterns are those grounded in physical properties of speech, while unnatural sound patterns arguably have no such physical basis. This study provides a brief history of the study of natural and unnatural sound patterns from antiquity forward. Definitions of natural and unnatural sound patterns are examined in a range of frameworks, and as applied to both synchronic and diachronic phonology. Examples of natural and unnatural sound patterns are provided, with attempts to move beyond linguistic intuitions by providing documentation from phonetic research, psycholinguistics, and laboratory phonology of the types of sound patterns grounded in physical properties of speech. A final issue discussed is the logic and empirical basis for encoding naturalness in synchronic grammars. Many common and recurrent sound patterns can be explained in terms of the way humans articulate and perceive speech, but phonetic explanation should be properly segregated from grammatical description and analysis.


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