Testing the P-Map: Lenition and Position

Chad Patrick Hall


This study tests the P-Map’s (Steriade, 2001) hypothesis that attested phonological patterns vary depending on phonological context due to differences in the perceptual similarity of two phonological contrasts in different contexts, and that the knowledge of these relative perceptibilities are used to explain cross-linguistic patterns of phonological typology. Specifically, the phenomena in focus are spirantization and devoicing. The study investigates if preference for spirantization of voiced stops in intervocalic position and devoicing of voiced stops in word-final position across languages is correlated with perceptual similarity. Using perceptual similarity tests with native Michigan English speakers on pairs of contrasts in nonsense words, the results show that continuancy contrasts are significantly more similar in intervocalic position than in word-final position, explaining the preference for spirantization intervocalically while voicing contrasts are significantly more similar word-finally, explaining the preference for devoicing word-finally. The results thus support the P-Map’s claim and support a phonetics-based approach to phonology. In addition, since neither phenomenon is a process that happens in Michigan English, the lack of bias in these similarity judgements lends weight to the idea that these results reflect the universal perception of phonological processes.


Perceptual Similarity; P-Map, Phonological Typology; Spirantization; Devoicing

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/amp.v8i0.4664

Copyright (c) 2020 Chad Patrick Hall

License URL: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/