Book section Open Access

Alternating sounds and the formal franchise in phonology

James McElvenny

JSON-LD ( Export

  "inLanguage": {
    "alternateName": "eng", 
    "@type": "Language", 
    "name": "English"
  "description": "<p>A matter of some controversy in the intersecting worlds of late nineteenth-century<br>\nlinguistics and anthropology was the nature of &ldquo;alternating sounds&rdquo;. This phe-<br>\nnomenon is the apparent tendency, long assumed to be characteristic of &ldquo;primitive&rdquo;<br>\nlanguages, to freely vary the pronunciation of words, without any discernible sys-<br>\ntem. Franz Boas (1858&ndash;1942), rebutting received opinion in the American anthro-<br>\npological establishment, denied the existence of this phenomenon, arguing that it<br>\nwas an artefact of observation. Georg von der Gabelentz (1840&ndash;1893), on the other<br>\nhand, embraced the phenomenon and fashioned it into a critique of the compara-<br>\ntive method as it was practised in Germany.<br>\nBoth Boas and Gabelentz &ndash; and indeed also their opponents &ndash; were well versed<br>\nin the Humboldtian tradition of language scholarship, in particular as developed<br>\nand transmitted by H. Steinthal (1823&ndash;1899). Although the late nineteenth-century<br>\ndebates surrounding alternating sounds were informed by a number of sources,<br>\nthis chapter argues that Steinthal&rsquo;s writings served as a key point of reference and<br>\noffered several motifs that were taken up by his scholarly successors. In addition,<br>\nand most crucially, the chapter demonstrates that the positions at which the partic-<br>\nipants in these debates arrived were determined not so much by any simple tech-<br>\nnical disagreements but by underlying philosophical differences and sociological<br>\nfactors. This episode in the joint history of linguistics and anthropology is telling<br>\nfor what it reveals about the dominant mindset and temperament of these disci-<br>\nplines in relation to the formal analysis of the world&rsquo;s languages.</p>\n\n<p>&nbsp;</p>", 
  "license": "", 
  "creator": [
      "affiliation": "University of Edinburgh", 
      "@type": "Person", 
      "name": "James McElvenny"
  "headline": "Alternating sounds and the formal franchise in phonology", 
  "image": "", 
  "datePublished": "2019-04-30", 
  "url": "", 
  "@context": "", 
  "identifier": "", 
  "@id": "", 
  "@type": "ScholarlyArticle", 
  "name": "Alternating sounds and the formal franchise in phonology"
All versions This version
Views 157157
Downloads 4848
Data volume 8.6 MB8.6 MB
Unique views 147147
Unique downloads 4646


Cite as