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What is generative phonology?



Generative phonology is a component of generative grammar that assigns the correct phonetic representations to utterances in such a way as to reflect a native speaker’s internalized grammar.


The following are crucial components of generative phonology:

  • Levels of phonological representation

    Generative phonology posits two levels of phonological representation:

    • An underlying representation is the most basic form of a word before any phonological rules have been applied to it. Underlying representations show what a native speaker knows about the abstract underlying phonology of the language.
    • A phonetic representation is the form of a word that is spoken and heard.
  • Phonological rules

    Phonological rules map underlying representations onto phonological representations. They delete, insert, or change segments, or change the features of segments.

  • Derivations
  • Distinctive features

    Distinctive features make it possible to capture the generalities of phonological rules.

  • Linearity

    A stream of speech is portrayed as a sequence of discrete sound segments. Each segment is composed of simultaneously occurring features.


Kenstowicz and Kisseberth 1979

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Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 5.0 published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 2003. [Ordering information.]

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