Government Phonology

Government phonology (GP) is a theoretical framework of linguistics and more specifically of phonology. The framework aims to provide a non-arbitrary account for phonological phenomena by replacing the rule component of phonology with a restricted set of universal principles and parameters. As in Noam Chomsky’s principles and parameters approach to syntax, the differences in phonological systems across languages are captured through different combinations of parametric settings.

In GP, phonological representations consist of zero (e.g. vowel-zero in French) or more combinations of elements. These elements are the primitives of the theory and are deemed to be universally present in all human phonological systems. They are assumed to correspond to characteristic acoustic signatures in the signal, or hot features as previously referred to.

There are 6 elements believed to be existent across all languages. They are (A), (I), (U), (ʔ), (L) and (H). These represent backness, frontness, roundness, stopness, voicing/nasality and frication/aspiration respectively.

As in French, it is possible to have empty nuclei, marked (_), which are subject to the phonological Empty Category Principle (ECP) . Unlike features, each element is a monovalent, and potentially interpretable phonological expression. Its actual interpretation depends on what phonological constituent dominates it, and whether it occupies a head or operator position within a phonological expression.

Today, whilst Optimality Theory has become the dominant theory in phonology, GP continues to develop. Pöchtrager,[1] for example, proposes GP 2.0, another version of GP that strives to further reduce the number of elements by capturing manner of articulation with structure. The full potential of GP awaits to be seen.

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