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Sonority hierarchy

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(January 2012) ()
This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see . For the distinction between[ ],/ / and ⟨⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

A sonority hierarchy or sonority scale is a hierarchical ranking of speech sounds (or phones). Sonority is loosely defined as the loudness of speech sounds relative to other sounds of the same pitch, length and stress, therefore sonority is often related to rankings for phones to their amplitude. For example, pronouncing the vowel [a] will produce a louder sound than the stop [t], so [a] would rank higher in the hierarchy. However, grounding sonority in amplitude is not universally accepted. Instead, many researchers refer to sonority as the resonance of speech sounds. This relates to the degree to which production of phones results in vibrations of air particles. Thus, sounds that are described as more sonorous are less subject to masking by ambient noises.

Sonority hierarchies are especially important when analyzing syllable structure; rules about what segments may appear in onsets or codas together, such as SSP, are formulated in terms of the difference of their sonority values. Some languages also have assimilation rules based on sonority hierarchy, for example, the Finnish potential mood, in which a less sonorous segment changes to copy a more sonorous adjacent segment (e.g. -tne- → -nne-).

Contents

Sonority hierarchies vary somewhat in which sounds are grouped together. The one below is fairly typical:

vowels approximants
(glides and liquids)
nasals fricatives affricates stops
syllabic: + -
approximant: + -
sonorant: + -
continuant: + -
delayed release: + -

Sound types are the most sonorous on the left side of the scale, and become progressively less sonorous towards the right (e.g., fricatives are less sonorous than nasals).

The labels on the left refer to distinctive features, and categories of sounds can be grouped together according to whether they share a feature. For instance, as shown in the sonority hierarchy above, vowels are considered [+syllabic], whereas all consonants (including stops, affricates, fricatives, etc.) are considered [−syllabic]. All sound categories falling under [+sonorant] are sonorants, whereas those falling under [−sonorant] are obstruents. In this way, any contiguous set of sound types may be grouped together on the basis of no more than two features (for instance, glides, liquids, and nasals are [−syllabic, +sonorant]).

Most sonorous (weakest consonantality) to
least sonorous (strongest consonantality)
English examples
low (open vowels) [a]
mid vowels [e o]
high vowels (close vowels) / glides (semivowels) [i u j w] (first two are close vowels, last two are semivowels)
flaps [ɾ]
laterals [l]
nasals [m n ŋ]
voiced fricatives [v ð z]
voiceless fricatives [f θ s]
voiced plosives [b d g]
voiceless plosives [p t k]
complex plosives Not found in English

In English, the sonority scale, from highest to lowest, is the following:

[a] > [e o] > [i u j w] > [ɾ] > [l] > [m n ŋ] > [z v ð] > [f θ s] > [b d ɡ] > [p t k]

In layman terms this scale, in which members of the same group hold the same sonority, represents from greatest to least the presence of vibrations in the vocal folds. Vowels have the most vibration, whereas consonants are characterized as such in part due to the lack of vibration or a break in vibration. The top of the scale, open vowels, has the greatest amount of air being used for vibration where as the bottom of the scale has the least amount of air being used for vibration of the vocal folds. This can be demonstrated by putting a few fingers on one's throat and pronouncing an open vowel such as the vowel [a], and then pronouncing one of the plosives (also known as stop consonants) of the [p t k] class. In the vowel case, there is a consistent level pressure generated from the lungs and diaphragm, as well as the pressure difference in one's body and outside the mouth being minimal. In the plosive case, the pressure generated from the lungs and diaphragm changes significantly, as well as the pressure difference in one's body and outside the mouth being maximal before release (no air is flowing and vocal folds are not in resistance to the air flow).

More finely nuanced hierarchies often exist within classes whose members cannot be said to be distinguished by relative sonority. In North American English, for example, of the set /p t k/, /t/ is by far the most subject to weakening when before an unstressed vowel (v. the usual American pronunciation of /t/ as a flap in later, but normally no weakening of /p/ in caper or of /k/ in faker).

In Portuguese, intervocalic /n/ and /l/ are typically lost historically (e.g. Lat. LUNA > /lua/ 'moon', DONARE > /doar/ 'donate', COLORE > /kor/ 'color'), but /r/ remains (CERA > /sera/ 'wax'), whereas Romanian transformed the intervocalic non-geminate /l/ into /r/ (SOLEM > /so̯are/ 'sun') and reduced the geminate /ll/ to /l/ (OLLA > /o̯alə/ 'pot'), but kept unchanged /n/ (LUNA > /lunə/ 'moon') and /r/ (PIRA > /parə/ 'pear'). Similarly, Romance languages often show geminate /mm/ to be weaker than /nn/, and Romance geminate /rr/ is often stronger than other geminates, including /pp tt kk/. In such cases, many phonologists refer not to sonority, but to a more abstract notion of relative strength, which, while once posited as universal in its arrangement, is now known to be language-specific.

Syllable structure tends to be highly influenced and motivated by the sonority scale, with the general rule that more sonorous elements are internal (i.e., close to the syllable nucleus) and less sonorant elements are external. For instance, the sequence /plant/ is permissible in many languages, while /lpatn/ is much less likely. (This is the sonority sequencing principle). This rule is applied with varying levels of strictness cross-linguistically, with many languages allowing exceptions: for example, in English, /s/ can be found external to stops even though it is more sonorous (e.g. "strong", "hats").

In many languages the presence of two non-adjacent highly-sonorous elements can be a reliable indication of how many syllables are in the word; /ata/ is most likely two syllables, and many languages would deal with the sequences like /mbe/ or /lpatn/ by pronouncing them as multiple syllables, with syllabic sonorants: [m̩.be] and [l̩.pat.n̩].

The sonority ranking of speech sounds plays an important role in developing phonological patterns in language, which allows for the intelligible transmission of speech between individuals in a society. Differences in the occurrence of particular sounds in languages around the world have been observed by numerous researchers. It has been suggested that these differences are as a result of ecological pressures.

This understanding was developed from the acoustic adaptation hypothesis, which was a theory initially used to understand differences in bird songs across varying habitats. However, the theory has been applied by researchers as a base for understanding why differences are shown in speech sounds within spoken languages around the world.

Climates

Maddieson and Coupé’s study on 633 languages worldwide observed that some of the variation in the sonority of speech sounds in languages can be accounted for by differences in climate. The pattern follows that in warmer climatic zones, language is more sonorous compared to languages in cooler climatic zones which favour the use of consonants. To explain these differences they emphasise the influence of atmospheric absorption and turbulence within warmer, ambient air, which may disrupt the integrity of acoustic signals. Therefore, employing more sonorous sounds in a language may reduce the distortion of soundwaves in warmer climates. Fought and Munroe instead argue that these disparities in speech sounds are as a result of differences in the daily activities of individuals in different climates. Proposing that throughout history individuals residing in warmer climates tend to spend more time outdoors (likely engaging in agricultural work or social activities), therefore speech requires effective propagation of sound through the air for acoustic signals to meet the recipient over these long distances. Unlike in cooler climates where people are communicating over shorter distances (spend more time indoors). Another explanation is that languages have adapted to maintain homeostasis. Thermoregulation aims to ensure body temperature remains within a certain range of values, allowing for the proper functioning of cells. Therefore, it has been argued that differences in the regularity of phones in a language are an adaptation which helps to regulate internal bodily temperatures. Employing the use of open vowels like /a/ which is highly sonorous, requires the opening of vocal articulators. This allows for air to flow out of the mouth and with it evaporating water which reduces internal bodily temperatures. In contrast, voiceless plosives like /t/ are more common in cooler climates. Producing this speech sound obstructs airflow out of the mouth due to the constriction of vocal articulators. Thus, reducing the transfer of heat out of the body, which is important for individuals residing in cooler climates.

Vegetation

A positive correlation exists, so that as temperature increases, so does the use of more sonorous speech sounds. However, the presence of dense vegetation coverage leads to the correlation occurring oppositely, so that less sonorous speech sounds are favoured by warmer climates when the area is covered by dense vegetation. This is said to be because in warmer climates with dense vegetation coverage individuals instead communicate over shorter distances, therefore favour speech sounds which are ranked lower in the sonority hierarchy.

Altitude

Everett, (2013) suggested that in high elevation regions such as in the Andes, languages regularly employ the use of ejective plosives like //. Everett argued that in high altitude areas, with reduced ambient air pressure, the use of ejectives allows for ease of articulation when producing speech. Moreover, as no air is flowing out of the vocal folds, water is conserved whilst communicating, thus reducing dehydration in individuals residing in high elevation regions.

A range of other additional factors have also been observed which affect the degree of sonority of a particular language such as precipitation and sexual restrictiveness. Inevitably, the patterns become more complex when considering a range of ecological factors simultaneously. Moreover, large amounts of variation are shown which may be due to patterns of migration.

The existence of these differences in speech sounds in modern day human language is said to be driven by cultural evolution. Language is an important part of culture. In particular, speech sounds in the sonority scale are more likely to be selected for in different environments as a language favours phonetic structures which allow for the successful transmission of messages in the presence of ecological conditions. Henrich highlights the role of dual inheritance, which propels changes in language that persist across generations. It follows that slight differences in language patterns may be selected for because they are advantageous for individuals in the given environment. Biased transmission then occurs which allows for speech pattern to be adopted by members of the society.

  1. Peter Ladefoged; Keith Johnson (1 January 2010). A Course in Phonetics. Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-1-4282-3126-9.
  2. Ohala, John J. (1992). "Alternatives to the sonority hierarchy for explaining segmental sequential constraints"(PDF). Papers on the Parasession on the Syllable: 319–338.
  3. "What is the sonority scale?". www-01.sil.org. Retrieved2016-11-21.
  4. Burquest, Donald A., and David L. Payne. 1993. Phonological analysis: A functional approach. Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics. pg 101
  5. Selkirk E (1984). "On the major class features and syllable theory". In Aronoff & Oehrle.
  6. O'Grady, W. D.; Archibald, J. (2012). Contemporary linguistic analysis: An introduction (7th ed.). Toronto: Pearson Longman. p. 70.
  7. "Consonants: Fricatives". facweb.furman.edu. Retrieved2016-11-28.
  8. Boncoraglio, Giuseppe; Saino, Nicola (2007). "Habitat structure and the evolution of bird song: a meta-analysis of the evidence for the acoustic adaptation hypothesis". Functional Ecology. 21 (1). doi:10.1111/j.1365-2435.2006.01207.x. ISSN 0269-8463.
  9. Maddieson, Ian (2018). "Language Adapts to Environment: Sonority and Temperature". Frontiers in Communication. 3. doi:10.3389/fcomm.2018.00028. ISSN 2297-900X.
  10. Fought, John G.; Munroe, Robert L.; Fought, Carmen R.; Good, Erin M. (2016). "Sonority and Climate in a World Sample of Languages: Findings and Prospects". Cross-Cultural Research. 38 (1): 27–51. doi:10.1177/1069397103259439. ISSN 1069-3971. S2CID 144410953.
  11. Evert Van de Vliert (22 December 2008). Climate, Affluence, and Culture. Cambridge University Press. pp. 5–. ISBN 978-1-139-47579-2.
  12. Ember, Carol R.; Ember, Melvin (2007). "Climate, Econiche, and Sexuality: Influences on Sonority in Language". American Anthropologist. 109 (1): 180–185. doi:10.1525/aa.2007.109.1.180. ISSN 0002-7294.
  13. Aronoff, Mark; Everett, Caleb (2013). "Evidence for Direct Geographic Influences on Linguistic Sounds: The Case of Ejectives". PLOS ONE. 8 (6): e65275. Bibcode:2013PLoSO...865275E. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065275. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC3680446. PMID 23776463.
  14. Joseph Henrich (17 October 2017). The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-17843-1.

Sonority hierarchy
Sonority hierarchy Language Watch Edit This article needs additional citations for verification Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources Unsourced material may be challenged and removed Find sources Sonority hierarchy news newspapers books scholar JSTOR January 2012 Learn how and when to remove this template message This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet IPA For an introductory guide on IPA symbols see Help IPA For the distinction between and see IPA Brackets and transcription delimiters A sonority hierarchy or sonority scale is a hierarchical ranking of speech sounds or phones Sonority is loosely defined as the loudness of speech sounds relative to other sounds of the same pitch length and stress 1 therefore sonority is often related to rankings for phones to their amplitude 2 For example pronouncing the vowel a will produce a louder sound than the stop t so a would rank higher in the hierarchy However grounding sonority in amplitude is not universally accepted 2 Instead many researchers refer to sonority as the resonance of speech sounds 2 This relates to the degree to which production of phones results in vibrations of air particles Thus sounds that are described as more sonorous are less subject to masking by ambient noises 2 Sonority hierarchies are especially important when analyzing syllable structure rules about what segments may appear in onsets or codas together such as SSP are formulated in terms of the difference of their sonority values Some languages also have assimilation rules based on sonority hierarchy for example the Finnish potential mood in which a less sonorous segment changes to copy a more sonorous adjacent segment e g tne nne Contents 1 Sonority hierarchy 2 Sonority scale 3 Sonority in phonotactics 4 Ecological patterns in sonority 4 1 Climates 4 2 Vegetation 4 3 Altitude 5 Mechanisms underlying differences in sonority 6 References 7 External linksSonority hierarchy EditSonority hierarchies vary somewhat in which sounds are grouped together The one below is fairly typical vowels approximants glides and liquids nasals fricatives affricates stopssyllabic approximant sonorant continuant delayed release Sound types are the most sonorous on the left side of the scale and become progressively less sonorous towards the right e g fricatives are less sonorous than nasals The labels on the left refer to distinctive features and categories of sounds can be grouped together according to whether they share a feature For instance as shown in the sonority hierarchy above vowels are considered syllabic whereas all consonants including stops affricates fricatives etc are considered syllabic All sound categories falling under sonorant are sonorants whereas those falling under sonorant are obstruents In this way any contiguous set of sound types may be grouped together on the basis of no more than two features for instance glides liquids and nasals are syllabic sonorant Sonority scale EditMost sonorous weakest consonantality to least sonorous strongest consonantality English exampleslow open vowels a mid vowels e o high vowels close vowels glides semivowels i u j w first two are close vowels last two are semivowels flaps ɾ laterals l nasals m n ŋ voiced fricatives v d z voiceless fricatives f 8 s voiced plosives b d g voiceless plosives p t k complex plosives Not found in English 3 4 In English the sonority scale from highest to lowest is the following a gt e o gt i u j w gt ɾ gt l gt m n ŋ gt z v d gt f 8 s gt b d ɡ gt p t k 3 5 6 7 In layman terms this scale in which members of the same group hold the same sonority represents from greatest to least the presence of vibrations in the vocal folds Vowels have the most vibration whereas consonants are characterized as such in part due to the lack of vibration or a break in vibration The top of the scale open vowels has the greatest amount of air being used for vibration where as the bottom of the scale has the least amount of air being used for vibration of the vocal folds This can be demonstrated by putting a few fingers on one s throat and pronouncing an open vowel such as the vowel a and then pronouncing one of the plosives also known as stop consonants of the p t k class In the vowel case there is a consistent level pressure generated from the lungs and diaphragm as well as the pressure difference in one s body and outside the mouth being minimal In the plosive case the pressure generated from the lungs and diaphragm changes significantly as well as the pressure difference in one s body and outside the mouth being maximal before release no air is flowing and vocal folds are not in resistance to the air flow More finely nuanced hierarchies often exist within classes whose members cannot be said to be distinguished by relative sonority In North American English for example of the set p t k t is by far the most subject to weakening when before an unstressed vowel v the usual American pronunciation of t as a flap in later but normally no weakening of p in caper or of k in faker In Portuguese intervocalic n and l are typically lost historically e g Lat LUNA gt lua moon DONARE gt doar donate COLORE gt kor color but r remains CERA gt sera wax whereas Romanian transformed the intervocalic non geminate l into r SOLEM gt so are sun and reduced the geminate ll to l OLLA gt o ale pot but kept unchanged n LUNA gt lune moon and r PIRA gt pare pear Similarly Romance languages often show geminate mm to be weaker than nn and Romance geminate rr is often stronger than other geminates including pp tt kk In such cases many phonologists refer not to sonority but to a more abstract notion of relative strength which while once posited as universal in its arrangement is now known to be language specific Sonority in phonotactics EditSyllable structure tends to be highly influenced and motivated by the sonority scale with the general rule that more sonorous elements are internal i e close to the syllable nucleus and less sonorant elements are external For instance the sequence plant is permissible in many languages while lpatn is much less likely This is the sonority sequencing principle This rule is applied with varying levels of strictness cross linguistically with many languages allowing exceptions for example in English s can be found external to stops even though it is more sonorous e g strong hats In many languages the presence of two non adjacent highly sonorous elements can be a reliable indication of how many syllables are in the word ata is most likely two syllables and many languages would deal with the sequences like mbe or lpatn by pronouncing them as multiple syllables with syllabic sonorants m be and l pat n Ecological patterns in sonority EditThe sonority ranking of speech sounds plays an important role in developing phonological patterns in language which allows for the intelligible transmission of speech between individuals in a society Differences in the occurrence of particular sounds in languages around the world have been observed by numerous researchers It has been suggested that these differences are as a result of ecological pressures This understanding was developed from the acoustic adaptation hypothesis which was a theory initially used to understand differences in bird songs across varying habitats 8 However the theory has been applied by researchers as a base for understanding why differences are shown in speech sounds within spoken languages around the world 9 Climates Edit Maddieson and Coupe s 9 study on 633 languages worldwide observed that some of the variation in the sonority of speech sounds in languages can be accounted for by differences in climate The pattern follows that in warmer climatic zones language is more sonorous compared to languages in cooler climatic zones which favour the use of consonants To explain these differences they emphasise the influence of atmospheric absorption and turbulence within warmer ambient air which may disrupt the integrity of acoustic signals Therefore employing more sonorous sounds in a language may reduce the distortion of soundwaves in warmer climates Fought and Munroe 10 instead argue that these disparities in speech sounds are as a result of differences in the daily activities of individuals in different climates Proposing that throughout history individuals residing in warmer climates tend to spend more time outdoors likely engaging in agricultural work or social activities therefore speech requires effective propagation of sound through the air for acoustic signals to meet the recipient over these long distances Unlike in cooler climates where people are communicating over shorter distances spend more time indoors Another explanation is that languages have adapted to maintain homeostasis 11 Thermoregulation aims to ensure body temperature remains within a certain range of values allowing for the proper functioning of cells Therefore it has been argued that differences in the regularity of phones in a language are an adaptation which helps to regulate internal bodily temperatures Employing the use of open vowels like a which is highly sonorous requires the opening of vocal articulators This allows for air to flow out of the mouth and with it evaporating water which reduces internal bodily temperatures In contrast voiceless plosives like t are more common in cooler climates Producing this speech sound obstructs airflow out of the mouth due to the constriction of vocal articulators Thus reducing the transfer of heat out of the body which is important for individuals residing in cooler climates Vegetation Edit A positive correlation exists so that as temperature increases so does the use of more sonorous speech sounds However the presence of dense vegetation coverage leads to the correlation occurring oppositely 12 so that less sonorous speech sounds are favoured by warmer climates when the area is covered by dense vegetation This is said to be because in warmer climates with dense vegetation coverage individuals instead communicate over shorter distances therefore favour speech sounds which are ranked lower in the sonority hierarchy Altitude Edit Everett 2013 13 suggested that in high elevation regions such as in the Andes languages regularly employ the use of ejective plosives like kʼ Everett argued that in high altitude areas with reduced ambient air pressure the use of ejectives allows for ease of articulation when producing speech Moreover as no air is flowing out of the vocal folds water is conserved whilst communicating thus reducing dehydration in individuals residing in high elevation regions A range of other additional factors have also been observed which affect the degree of sonority of a particular language such as precipitation and sexual restrictiveness 12 Inevitably the patterns become more complex when considering a range of ecological factors simultaneously Moreover large amounts of variation are shown which may be due to patterns of migration Mechanisms underlying differences in sonority EditThe existence of these differences in speech sounds in modern day human language is said to be driven by cultural evolution 14 Language is an important part of culture In particular speech sounds in the sonority scale are more likely to be selected for in different environments as a language favours phonetic structures which allow for the successful transmission of messages in the presence of ecological conditions Henrich highlights the role of dual inheritance which propels changes in language that persist across generations It follows that slight differences in language patterns may be selected for because they are advantageous for individuals in the given environment Biased transmission then occurs which allows for speech pattern to be adopted by members of the society 14 References Edit Peter Ladefoged Keith Johnson 1 January 2010 A Course in Phonetics Cengage Learning ISBN 978 1 4282 3126 9 a b c d Ohala John J 1992 Alternatives to the sonority hierarchy for explaining segmental sequential constraints PDF Papers on the Parasession on the Syllable 319 338 a b What is the sonority scale www 01 sil org Retrieved 2016 11 21 Burquest Donald A and David L Payne 1993 Phonological analysis A functional approach Dallas TX Summer Institute of Linguistics pg 101 Selkirk E 1984 On the major class features and syllable theory In Aronoff amp Oehrle O Grady W D Archibald J 2012 Contemporary linguistic analysis An introduction 7th ed Toronto Pearson Longman p 70 Consonants Fricatives facweb furman edu Retrieved 2016 11 28 Boncoraglio Giuseppe Saino Nicola 2007 Habitat structure and the evolution of bird song a meta analysis of the evidence for the acoustic adaptation hypothesis Functional Ecology 21 1 doi 10 1111 j 1365 2435 2006 01207 x ISSN 0269 8463 a b Maddieson Ian 2018 Language Adapts to Environment Sonority and Temperature Frontiers in Communication 3 doi 10 3389 fcomm 2018 00028 ISSN 2297 900X Fought John G Munroe Robert L Fought Carmen R Good Erin M 2016 Sonority and Climate in a World Sample of Languages Findings and Prospects Cross Cultural Research 38 1 27 51 doi 10 1177 1069397103259439 ISSN 1069 3971 S2CID 144410953 Evert Van de Vliert 22 December 2008 Climate Affluence and Culture Cambridge University Press pp 5 ISBN 978 1 139 47579 2 a b Ember Carol R Ember Melvin 2007 Climate Econiche and Sexuality Influences on Sonority in Language American Anthropologist 109 1 180 185 doi 10 1525 aa 2007 109 1 180 ISSN 0002 7294 Aronoff Mark Everett Caleb 2013 Evidence for Direct Geographic Influences on Linguistic Sounds The Case of Ejectives PLOS ONE 8 6 e65275 Bibcode 2013PLoSO 865275E doi 10 1371 journal pone 0065275 ISSN 1932 6203 PMC 3680446 PMID 23776463 a b Joseph Henrich 17 October 2017 The Secret of Our Success How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution Domesticating Our Species and Making Us Smarter Princeton University Press ISBN 978 0 691 17843 1 External links EditWhat is the sonority scale Lingua Phonology Syllable Perl module for extracting sonority scale from text https glossary sil org term sonority scale The Syllable and Phonotactic Constraints http linguismstics tumblr com post 16916697835 linguistics sonority hierarchy The Derivation of a Sonority Hierarchy from the Syllable Contact Law SCL and the Productivity of SCL in American English Dual inheritance theory Biased transmission Retrieved from https en wikipedia org w index php title Sonority hierarchy amp oldid 1054569161, wikipedia, wiki, book,

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