Functional  Phonology

* Introduction

* Major Functions of Phonic Elements

* The definition of Phoneme and Archiphoneme        

* Various view points of functional phonology

       * Reference


By functional phonology is normally meant the phonological theory predominantly associated with the Russian, Nikolaj Sergeyevich Trubetzkoy (1890-1938). This theory is also known as Prague School Phonology, and there exists a fair amount of literature on it. Much less has been written in English about the functional phonological theory developed by the Frenchman André Martinet and his associates. Both streams of functional phonology are founded on linguistic functionalism and have much in common.  


Major Functions of Phonic Elements

         Functionalists study phonic elements from the points of view of the various functions they fulfill in a given language. They identify and order these functions hierarchically. Some of the better-known functions are the following:

 1. 1. The representative function, whereby speakers inform listeners of whatever extralinguistic facts or states they are talking about. This corresponds to what the Austrian psychologist-linguist, Karl Bühker (1879-1963).

2. 2. The indexical or expressive function, whereby information is revealed to the listener about various aspects of he speaker.

3. 3. The appellative or conative function, which serves to provoke well-definable impressions or feelings in the listener.

4. 4. The distinctive function. This is a function which derives directly from the concept of opposition, and in the case of phonological analysis, form the concept of phonological opposition. It is the function by virtue of which linguistic forms are opposed to, or differentiated form, each other. The minimal linguistic form that is meaningful, or the minimal significant unit, is known as a moneme, which consists in the association between a signifier (vocal expression) and a signified (semantic content).

5. 5. The contrastive function, which enables the listener to analyze a spoken chain into a series of significant units like monemes, words, phrases, etc. An accent in a language functions contrastively by bringing into prominence one, and only one, syllable in what is called an accentual unit. Since an accentual unit is in many languages what is commonly referred to as a word, the listener automatically analyses a spoken chain into a series of words. However, in such a language as German which allows cumulative compounding in word-formation, a compound word may consist of a number of elements, each of which bears and accent. What is meant by the term contrastive is that the accented syllable contrasts with the unaccented syllable and characterizes the accentual unit as a whole.

6. 6. The demarcative or delimitative function, which is fulfilled in such a say that the boundary between significant units is indicated.

7. 7. The expressive function, whereby speakers convey to listeners their state of mind without resorting to he use of an additional moneme or monemes.

 The above are some major functions of phonic elements that are identified in various languages. They are all recognized as major functions in terms of their relative importance from a functional point of view. It has been pointed out that the distinct function derives directly from the concept of phonological opposition and that the distinctive function is fulfilled by a phoneme, an archiphonome, a tone or an architone. The distinctive function is considered to be the most important function.

        It is crucial to understand that, in functional phonology, the concept of phonological opposition is primary, while the concept of the phoneme is secondary; without a phonological opposition, phonemes are inconceivable and inadmissible; the concept of he phoneme derives its validity from the fact that phonemes are members of a phonological opposition. The concept of phonological opposition is thus at the center of functional phonology.


 The definition of Phoneme and Archiphoneme        

        A phoneme or an archiphoneme is a sum of phonologically relevant features – relevant features for short - which themselves fulfill the distinctive function. An opposition between phonemes, between phonemes and archiphonemes, between archiphonemes, between relevant features, or between tones, is said to be a phonological opposition.

         The phonemes and the archiphonemes of a given language are identified at the same time as mutually different sums of relevant features in terms of which they are definable, by means of the commutation test. In order to perform the commutation test, the functionalist chooses from within a corpus of data a certain number of commutative series which are associated with different phonetic contexts and each of which consists of a series of monemes, arranged in a parallel order, whose signifiers differ minimally from each other by the difference of a single segment at a corresponding point while the rest are identical.


Various view points of functional phonology

        On the basis of this commutation test, functionalists identify, among other relevant features, the relevant features ‘non-nasal’, ‘bilabial’, and ‘voiceless’. The principle of the commutation test fundamentally and closely resembles that of the theory of the micro-phoneme and the macro-phoneme proposed in 1935 by the American linguist, William Freeman Twaddell(1906-82).

         A relevant feature is identified in the course of the commutation test performed on a corpus of data obtained from a given language under phonological analysis. Furthermore, the internal structure of a relevant feature is a complex of multiple non-dissociable distinctive phonic features some of which may be present in some phonetic contexts while others may not be present in other phonetic contexts.

         The common base of the member phonemes of a phonological opposition in a given language is not found in any other phoneme (s) of the same language. In such a case, the phonemes are said to be in an exclusive relation; that is, the common base is exclusive to the phonemes in question. Some functionalists suggest the term exclusive opposition to designate conveniently this type of phonological opposition, whose member phonemes are in an exclusive relation.

         On the other hand, it may be the case that the common base of the member phonemes of a phonological opposition in a given language, is found in another or other phonemes of the same language.

         The common base of the phonemes of an exclusive opposition (but not of a non-exclusive opposition) is the archiphoneme, which may be defined as the sum of the relevant features of the (two or more) phonemes of an exclusive opposition.

         An exclusive opposition may or may not be a neutralizable opposition. However, a neutralizable opposition is bound to be an exclusive opposition; it is never a non-exclusive opposition. This brings us to the concept of neutralization.

         Martinet and the majority, if not all, of his associates give much the same account of the neutralization of such an exclusive opposition consisting of two phonemes, except that they generally do not resort to the concept of bilateral opposition and to the concept of the archiphoneme representative. It should be noted in passing that a few functionalists do not operate with the notions of the mark, marked, and unmarked in their account of any neutralization.

         Finally, a few words are in order about the concepts of the mark, marked, and unmarked, and the concept of correlation. Most functionalists consider that one of the two phonemes of a privative opposition possesses the mark and hence is marked, while the other phoneme lacks it and hence is unmarked.



Adopted from The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics


Paul Boersma, Inventories In Functional Phonology. 1997. 

Paul Boersma, Sound Change In Functional Phonology . 

Functional Phonology. 

The Grammar Model of Functional Phonology. 

Akamatsu, Tsutomu. Martinet, Andre. Essentials of Functional Phonology.Peeters.Louvain.1992

Cui, Buohai. Note on Functional Phonology. Waiguoyu. 6 (52):74-76.1987.Dec.Beijing, China.