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Title:On the need for a separate perception grammar
Authors:Paul Boersma
Abstract:On the need for a separate perception grammar

Paul Boersma

University of Amsterdam

This article adduces evidence for the existence of a

separate grammar for phonological perception, by showing

that this allows us to solve some old paradoxes and

that it helps us create a more economical theory of phonology.

The perception grammar is a language-specific processing system

that converts acoustic forms to phonological surface structures,

i.e. the perception grammar adds covert structure to the bare

phonetic events.

What we perceive in a speech utterance in a communicative setting

tends to be quite different from what is acoustically there.

The acoustic speech signal only contains phenomena that

the peripheral auditory mechanism will identify as continua of loudness,

periodicity, noise, and frequency spectra, and as temporal relations

between these. The phonological surface structure that we perceive,

however, is a much more structured representation: it may contain

sequential tiers of discrete perceptual feature values (voicing, tone,

vowel height, nasality, place, sonorance, frication) and their

simultaneous and sequential combinations (segments), as well as

hierarchical structures such as syllables and feet. Since all these

structures are not directly observable, they can be called covert or

hidden surface structures. It is the task of the language-specific

perception grammar to construct them from the overt acoustic signal.

In this article, I first give a summary of the theory of functional

phonology (Boersma 1998). After a short review of the simplest activity

of the perception grammar, namely categorization of continuous acoustic

features into discrete perceptual feature values, I present a fundamental

discussion of the role of perception in the production grammar, and show

how distinguishing between articulation and perception allows us to solve

the paradox between the structuralist and generative grammar models

and Charles Reiss's tooth-loss paradox. I then briefly touch upon the

formalization of the roles of perception in the recognition grammar and

in learning. Then I address the issue of empiricism with respect to

substantive content in phonology, which finally allows us to tackle a

complicated activity of the perception grammar, namely sequential abstraction.

In this last part, I first show that logical inconsistencies arise if the OCP

is taken to reside in the production grammar; having thus established

that the OCP and LCC are structure-building constraints whose

appropriate place is in the perception grammar, I discuss their role

in the example of the history of Dutch syllabification, in which coronals

played a role opposite to that of labials and dorsals.
Type:Paper/tech report
Article:Version 1