Characteristics of Firthian Prosodic Analyses

Firthian Prosodic Analysis exhibits some of the properties that make it suitable for use as a declarative theory (Ogden & Local 1994). It encourages the analyst to set up rich structure; to consider paradigmatic systems of contrast; and it forces us to state what the phonetic exponents of phonological categories are.

However, many aspects of FPA have not been systematically explained in the literature, so that part of the task we still have is to explain what FPA says. In this way we might change it from being a set of working assumptions to a set of testable hypotheses. My work concentrates on the aspects of FPA which deal with the phonetics/phonology relationship.

A recent statement of the principles of FPA (Kelly & Local 1989: 99 ff) provides some guide-lines for the making of phonological analyses within the FPA tradition. Two of these are not regarded as controversial: parsimony (minimising the number of phonological primitives) and system-symmetry (looking for and eliciting symmetry in systems the analyst sets up). The others are, however, somewhat controversial. They are:

* a strict demarcation between phonetics and phonology.

* viewing the phonetics-phonology relation as non-derivational and declarative.

* parametric interpretation of phonetic material

* variable-domain interpretation: interpreting phonetic features over all kinds of domains, and not just segment-sized pieces

* variable-relevance interpretation: accepting that different phonetic parameters are of different relevance at different points in the statement

* congruent level interpretation: relating the phonetic detail to various levels of linguistic analysis

* polysystemic interpretation: interpreting material in terms of several systems rather than one overall system.

While these guidelines are useful, they are by no means complete, and they reflect a way of working rather than a testable hypothesis about the nature of language. Nonetheless, they could all be said to be in some way defining characteristics of Firthian Prosodic Analysis.