Looking into Segments


  • Sharon Inkelas University of California, Berkeley
  • Stephanie S Shih University of California, Merced




segment, subsegment, Q Theory, contour segment, contour tone, Aperture Theory, Autosegmental Phonology, Articulatory Phonology


This paper outlines Q theory, in which the traditional segment (consonant, vowel) is decomposed into a string of three ordered subsegments, or q, representing the onset, target, and offset of the segment. The postulation of subsegmental structure permits the representation of complex (contour) segments as well as subtle contrasts in segment-internal changes of state. Q Theory synthesizes insights from Autosegmental Phonology, Aperture Theory, and Articulatory Phonology in a representation that standard phonological constraints can refer to. Q theory is supported by arguments that subsegments act independently and need to be independently referenced by the phonological grammar. Embedded into Agreement by Correspondence Theory, Q theory permits the analysis of contour assimilation as well as contour formation, both in the tonal and segmental domains. 

Author Biographies

  • Sharon Inkelas, University of California, Berkeley
    Professor, Department of Linguistics, UC Berkeley
  • Stephanie S Shih, University of California, Merced
    Assistant Professor, Cognitive & Information Sciences