An Emergent Approach to the Guttural Natural Class

John Christopher Sylak-Glassman


The post-velar consonants (uvulars, pharyngeals/epiglottals, glottals) have been argued to form an innate and universal phonological natural class (e.g. by McCarthy 1994). Under this hypothesis, languages should have an equal likelihood of showing evidence for the guttural natural class regardless of which post-velar consonants are present in each language. However, typological evidence from P-base (Mielke, 2008) shows that languages with pharyngeal consonants are significantly more likely to show such evidence than languages with just uvulars and glottals. This paper argues that the reason that languages with pharyngeals are more likely to show evidence of the guttural natural class is that pharyngeals are able to pull other consonants into phonologically patterning with them for both articulatory and acoustic reasons. The epilaryngeal constriction used in pharyngeal consonants facilitates articulatory links with uvulars and glottals. The acoustic effects of pharyngeals and uvulars on adjacent vowels are also similar, providing another means for these segments to pattern together phonologically. A preliminary analysis in Optimality Theory of the effects of post-velars on vowels is proposed in which markedness constraints refer to similarity scales that relate post-velar consonants to vowels. The guttural natural class, rather than being innate, emerges from phonological patterns with phonetic underpinnings.


Post-Velar Consonants; Natural Classes; Guttural Natural Class; Innateness; Phonetics; Phonological Association; Pharyngeal Association; Articulatory Features; Acoustic Features; Similarity; Scales; Optimality Theory

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