Research in

Phonetics and Phonetically-Driven Phonology

by Bruce Hayes and colleagues

"Phonetically-Driven Phonology: The Role of Optimality Theory and Inductive Grounding"

Published in Michael Darnell, Edith Moravscik, Michael Noonan, Frederick Newmeyer, and Kathleen Wheatly (1999) eds., Functionalism and Formalism in Linguistics, Volume I: General Papers, John Benjamins, Amsterdam, pp. 243-285. 


Functionalist phonetic literature has shown how the phonologies of human languages are arranged to facilitate ease of articulation and perception. The explanatory force of phonological theory is greatly increased if it can directly access these research results. There are two formal mechanisms that together can facilitate the link-up of formal to functional work. As others have noted, Optimality Theory, with its emphasis on directly incorporating principles of markedness, can serve as part of the bridge. Another mechanism is proposed here: an algorithm for inductive grounding permits the language learner to access the knowledge gained from experience in articulation and perception, and form from it the appropriate set of formal phonological constraints.

Downloadable Files:


"Postnasal Voicing" (in progress) by Bruce Hayes and Tanya Stivers


This article discusses a possible phonetic mechanism, namely a combination of nasal leak and compression/rarefaction by the velum, for the widespread pattern of voicing in obstruents adjacent to nasals. The compression/rarifaction mechanism crucially explains the prevalence of obstruent voicing only in postnasal position, not prenasal. We attempt to establish the plausibility of these mechanisms through computational vocal tract modeling.

Should further research support the validity of these mechanisms, then it becomes a factor relevant to phonology that the tendency toward postnasal obstruent voicing is present in all languages that have nasal + voiceless obstruent ("NC") clusters; all languages must “deal with it”, either phonologically by abandoning the attempt to produce NC clusters, or phonetically by establishing an outcome that preserves the contrast in spite of the pressure to obliterate it. We have tested this prediction against English data, and it appears to be confirmed: in our data, English both shows a certain degree of postnasal voicing, and also shows two phenomena: durational adjustment, and aspiration, that appear to be directed toward maintaining the /mp/-/mb/ distinction.

This result, should it be general, would count in our opinion as a strike against phonological theories of postnasal voicing that conceive of the phenomenon in terms of relatively arbitrary, language-specific constraints. Rather, we suggest that languages with post-nasal voicing should be treated as representing only one possible response (namely, the abandonment of a contrast) to a conundrum faced by all languages that have NC clusters.

Downloadable files:



Constraint generator. Generates constraints from files of phonetic difficulty indices. Accompanies "Phonetically-Driven Phonology: The Role of Optimality Theory and Inductive Grounding"

Download the following file (updated March 2017 to run on current Windows machines): to a directory of your choice.  Then unzip it, click on the exe file to run it.These files include a file called readme.doc which offers a bit of background and explanation.


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