The history of phonology may be traced back to the Ashtadhyayi, the Sanskrit grammar composed by Pāṇini in the 4th century BC. In particular the Shiva Sutras, an auxiliary text to the Ashtadhyayi, introduces what can be considered a list of the phonemes of the Sanskrit language, with a notational system for them that is used throughout the main text, which deals with matters of morphologysyntax and semantics.

The Polish scholar Jan Baudouin de Courtenay (together with his former student Mikołaj Kruszewski) introduced the concept of the phoneme in 1876, and his work, though often unacknowledged, is considered to be the starting point of modern phonology. He also worked on the theory of phonetic alternations (what is now called allophony and morphophonology), and had a significant influence on the work of Ferdinand de Saussure.

1. Prague phonology school

An influential school of phonology in the interwar period was the Prague school. One of its leading members was Prince Nikolai Trubetzkoy, whose Grundzüge der Phonologie (Principles of Phonology), published posthumously in 1939, is among the most important works in the field from this period. Directly influenced by Baudouin de Courtenay, Trubetzkoy is considered the founder of morphophonology, although this concept had also been recognized by de Courtenay. Trubetzkoy also developed the concept of the archiphoneme. Another important figure in the Prague school was Roman Jakobson, who was one of the most prominent linguists of the 20th century.

2. American structuralism in Phonology

American structuralist phonology was concerned primarily with formalizing the notion of the PHONEME, and with elaborating a framework for the phoneme analysis of languages.  By the early 20th century, phonetic science had revealed that languages often had more sound in their phonetic inventories than had originally been suspected.  For example, English p[l]ease has the voiceless liquid also found in Welsh; the final sound in ma[t]resembles the glottalized stop of many Amerindian languages.  While phonetically accurate, these transcriptions are linguistically misleading: [l] and [t] are of quite different status in English than in these other languages.  Understanding the nature of this difference was taken to define the field of phonology.

In the 1920s, Edward Sapir and Leonard Bloomfield initiated two different approaches to the problem.  For Sapir, a language’s phonetic inventory is but a distorted manifestation of its inner system of phonemes.  The phonemic structure is a conceptual system—an inventory of ‘ideal sounds’, in terms of which the phonetic segments of speech are perceived and articulated.  Sapir 1925 shows how the same phonetic sound can have a quite different status in languages with different phonemic systems.  Sapir believed that a language’s inner phonemic system can often be intuited by the native speaker.
Bloomfield was suspicious of such ‘mentalism’.  He felt it more prudent to approach the phoneme exclusively through objectively observable data.  For Bloomfield, the phoneme was not an ‘ideal sound’ or ‘mental image’, but rather a bundle of distinctive features which are present in the overt, physical manifestation of speech.  The task of phonemic analysis is to isolate these distinctive features—principally through the discovery of minimal pairs—and to state the distribution of redundant, non-distinctive features.

Because of the positivistic climate of the 1930s, Bloomfield’s approach attracted much more attention than did that of Sapir.  At the theoretical level, American Structuralist Phonology in the next two decades occupied itself principally with elaborating Bloomfield’s surface-oriented, inductive view of the phoneme; explicit criteria were developed to justify given phonemic groupings.  Bloch 1941, posed one of themost serious challenges to the Bloomfieldian view.  For example, in most American English dialects, the /t/ phoneme of betting, butter is realized a as a flap [D]; in some of these dialects, the /r/ phoneme is also realized as [D] after the interdentals of three, throw.  On this analysis, there is no invariant bundle of features that distinguishes among all occurrences of /t/ and /r/.  To maintain the invariance condition, [D] would have to be set up as a separate phoneme—despite its limited distribution and redundant status.

Another much-discussed problem is the minimal pair writer [wayDr] vs. [ra:yDr].  The surface contrast is in the length of the vowel.  But most analysis felt that the correct phonemicization registers the contrast in the consonant as [t] vs. [d].  Chomsky 1964 seized on this example from Harris in a devastating critique of Bloomfieldian phonology.  In the 1950s, Chomsky and his collaborator Morris Halle concluded that the best solution to such problems was simply to abandon the strong behaviorist stance of the Bloomfieldians, and to explore instead the mentalist approach to phonology advocated by Sapir.  In the resultant generative model, the only constraint on underlying (systematic phonemic) representations was their effectiveness in maximizing the overall simplicity of the grammar.  The focus of phonological research shifted to rules—their discovery, formulation, and ordering.  However, Generative Phonology also carried over several features of American Structuralism.

3. Prosodic analysis

In linguisticsprosody (from Ancient Greek προσῳδία prosōidía [prosɔː(i)díaː], "song sung to music; tone or accent of a syllable") is concerned with those elements of speech that are not individual phonetic segments (vowels and consonants) but are properties of syllables and larger units of speech. These contribute to linguistic functions such as intonation, tone, stress, and rhythm. Prosody may reflect various features of the speaker or the utterance: the emotional state of the speaker; the form of the utterance (statement, question, or command); the presence of irony or sarcasm; emphasis, contrast, and focus; or other elements of language that may not be encoded by grammar or by choice of vocabulary.

4. Generative phonology

In 1968 Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle published The Sound Pattern of English (SPE), the basis for generative phonology. In this view, phonological representations are sequences of segments made up of distinctive features. These features were an expansion of earlier work by Roman Jakobson, Gunnar Fant, and Morris Halle. The features describe aspects of articulation and perception, are from a universally fixed set, and have the binary values + or −. There are at least two levels of representation: underlying representation and surface phonetic representation. Ordered phonological rules govern how underlying representation is transformed into the actual pronunciation (the so-called surface form). An important consequence of the influence SPE had on phonological theory was the downplaying of the syllable and the emphasis on segments. Furthermore, the generativists folded morphophonology into phonology, which both solved and created problems. 

5. Natural phonology 

A theory based on the publications of its proponent David Stampe in 1969 and (more explicitly) in 1979. In this view, phonology is based on a set of universal phonological processes that interact with one another; which ones are active and which are suppressed is language-specific. Rather than acting on segments, phonological processes act on distinctive features within prosodic groups. Prosodic groups can be as small as a part of a syllable or as large as an entire utterance. Phonological processes are unordered with respect to each other and apply simultaneously (though the output of one process may be the input to another). The second most prominent natural phonologist is Patricia Donegan (Stampe's wife); there are many natural phonologists in Europe, and a few in the U.S., such as Geoffrey Nathan. The principles of natural phonology were extended to morphology by Wolfgang U. Dressler, who founded natural morphology.

6. Autosegmental phonology

in 1976 John Goldsmith introduced autosegmental phonology. Phonological phenomena are no longer seen as operating on one linear sequence of segments, called phonemes or feature combinations, but rather as involving some parallel sequences of features which reside on multiple tiers. Autosegmental phonology later evolved into feature geometry, which became the standard theory of representation for theories of the organization of phonology as different as lexical phonology and optimality theory.

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