Principles of Phonetic Exponency

These principles are a sumary of what I understand by 'Phonetic Exponency' in the Firthian literature. We see no essential difference between 'phonetic exponency' and 'phonetic interpretation', which is a more widely-used phrase in the listerature. The principles are gathered from papers written by the Firthians although they were not made explicit in these works. Rather, they are implicit and I have tried to unravel them from the texts so they can be made explicit and be tested.

I do not claim that these principles as I have formulated them are accurate, nor do I necessarily want to defend them: rather, they should be seen as a way of trying to make sense of what the Firthians were trying to do.

Exponency in general.

  1. Definition:

    In general, exponency is a relation between two different levels of linguistic statement.

  2. The Principle of Mutual Consistency:

    Material on each side of an exponency statement must be appropriate to its level, and well formed according to a set of principles statable at that level.

  3. Phonetic and phonological material each has a separate language of description.

The role of phonology in phonetic exponency.

  1. The Principle of Multiple Identification:

    Grammatically and phonologically different structures may have identical phonetic exponents. Conversely, identical phonetic stretches may have different phonological analyses, depending on grammatical alternations.

  2. The Principle of Co-exponency:

    Phonological categories may relate to phonetic exponents in a one-to-many fashion. (If A is a phonological category and A' is the set of phonetic exponents for A, then the various exponents in A are known as co-exponents.)

  3. The Principle of Structural Interpretation:

    The statement of phonetic exponency makes (can make) reference to system and structure.

  4. A phonological category may be expressed in terms of other phonological categories.

  5. The Principle of Re-usability

    1. In general, phonological categories should not be unique to one part of the overall statement; the overall inventory of phonological and phonetic terms should be kept small.

    2. Phonological categories may have a core set of phonetic exponents.

Characteristics of phonetic exponency statements.

  1. The Principle of Parametric Interpretation:

    Phonetic exponents can refer to one or more phonetic parameters. If there are several phonetic parameters, there need not be a natural connection between them.

  2. The Principle of Temporal Interpretation:

    Information about timing is part of phonetic exponency not phonological statement.

  3. The Principle of Cumulative (Compositional) Interpretation:

    Phonetic exponents can be stated compositionally and can be overlaid on one another in time, in the utterance.

  4. The exponents of one term may be expressed with reference to the exponents of another term.

  5. The Principle of Negative Exponency:

    The absence of a phonetic feature can count as an exponent.

  6. The Principle of Overlapping Exponency:

    Phonetic features may serve as the exponent of more than one phonological category at any one time; in doing an analysis, phonetic features are not subtracted from the signal.

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