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Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research

University of Babylon

College of Education for Human Sciences

Department of English

( A Presentation in Phonetics and Phonology)

Noor Dhia' & Noor Othman

Under the Supervision of

Prof. Dr. Fareed Al- Hindawi
List of Contents

- List of contents 2
-Neutralization 3
-Optimality Theory 4
-Types of Neutralization 5
- Overlapping Neutralization and Phoneme Neutralization 6
-Neutralization through Assimilation 7
-Neutralization and Biuniqueness 8
- Neutralization, Opposition, and Consonant Clusters 9
-Neutralization of Weak Forms 10
-Neutralization of vowels 11
- Neutralization and Archiphoneme 12
-The Conclusion 13
- References 14
Neutralization is found in many fields of language study. There is no a separate
study concerning it. It can be considered as the outcome of many studies in each field
and one of them is phonology which is the field we are studying now. It was
introduced and developed by the linguists of the Prague School in the 1930s and
especially by the Russian linguist Nikolai Trubetzkoy's theory of 'Neutralization and
Archiphoneme'. Also It was introduced in the work and findings of the Optimality
Theory in the 1990s by Allan Prince. ( Trask, 2007:186)

Neutralization refers solely to phonological process where abstract categories are

merged into one under certain conditions resulting in loss of contrast between the two
(Barnes, 2008: 151).

Crystal(2008: 352) defines neutralization as a term used in phonology to describe

what happens when the distinction between two phonemes is lost in a particular
environment. For example, in English, the contrast between aspirated (voiceless) and
unaspirated (voiced) plosives is normally crucial, e.g. tip v. dip, but this contrast is lost,
or neutralized, when the plosive is preceded by /s/, as in stop, skin, speech, and as a
result there are no pairs of words in the language of the type /skin/ v. /*sgin/.

Neutralization is seen as a type of free variation in which two otherwise

contrastive sounds are both possible in single word such as //conomic or /i/conomic
with no change of meaning as the opposition between the two is lost in this context.
(McMahon, 2002: 58).

Finally, Trask (1996: 142) defines neutralization as the disappearance, in a

particular position, of a contrast between two or more segments which is maintained in
other positions. The single segment which appears in the position of neutralization may
be phonetically similar to one or other of the neutralized segments; it may be
phonetically intermediate; or it may have a distinctive phonetic form. For example,
English /p/ and /b/ contrast in most positions, but are neutralized after syllable-initial
Optimality Theory
Optimality Theory (frequently abbreviated OT; second word
normally capitalized by convention) is a linguistic model
proposing that the observed forms of language arise from the
interaction between conflicting constraints rather than rules. It is
proposed by the linguists Alan Prince and Paul Smolensky in
1993. OT has been expanded by John J. McCarthy and Alan
Prince. The main idea of OT is that the observed forms of
language arise from the interaction between conflicting
constraints. There are three basic components of the theory.
GEN generates the list of possible outputs, or candidates, CON
provides the criteria, violable constraints, used to decide
between candidates, and EVAL chooses the optimal candidate.
OT assumes that these components are universal. (Kager, 1999)
Trask (2007: 198) states that Optimality Theory holds that
all languages have a set of constraints which produce the basic
phonological and grammatical patterns of that particular
language. In many cases, an actual utterance violates one or
more of these constraints, so a sense of well-formedness applies
to that utterance which violates the least number or least
important constraints. Constraints can be classified in two
types: faithfulness and markedness. The faithfulness principle
constrains a word to match its output ,the underlying
morphological form (such as cat +-s = cats) while words
like buses or dogs do not follow this constraint (the first falls foul
of the constraint that prevents the pronunciation of two
consecutive /s/ sounds and the second places a /z/ instead of
an /s/). These two examples, though, follow markedness
constraints, and in these cases the particular markedness
'scores' higher than the faithfulness constraint, so the alternate
forms are allowed.
According to Optimality Theory, Crystal(2008: 326) states
that neutralization is used for cases where a feature in an
inventory, but a context-specific ( under certain environment)
condition violates the general considerations of faithfulness

Types of Neutralization
According to Crystal (2008:326), there are two types of
neutralization; positional and absolute. The positional
neutralization is the situation in which the contrast between
two phonemes is neutralized in a particular location. A well-
known example of positional neutralization is that some
combination of these features (i.e. voicing, aspiration,
glottalization) can be freely contrasted in syllable onsets, but
see their ability to contrast neutralized in syllable codas e.g.
some pairs of sounds established as phonemes in a context A
cannot enter a contrast in context B, e.g. neutralization of the
voicing contrast in German (and a number of other
languages) ,stops and fricatives in word-final position, e.g.:
"bunt" and "bund" /bnt/.
The absolute neutralization Trask (1996: 2) defines it as "an
analysis which posits an underlying contrast which is never
realized phonetically on the surface". It occurs when an
opposition is neutralized in all environments. For example the
underlying representation of the word ' write' contains a final
segment 'e' even though it is never pronounced. This term was
introduced by Paul Kiparsky (1968:14). This type can be
considered context-free since it does not depend on the context
unlike the positional neutralization. Kula and et.al (2011: 148)
state that absolute neutralization is a problem for acquisition
because the learner is unable to appeal to surface
morphophonological alternations to reconstruct the underlying
representation of the segment; their only resource is to the
The previous division of neutralization represents Crystal's,
Trubetzkoy (1939) presents what so called positional
neutralization in addition to two types. First, that which is
represented by free variation. Some varieties of English have a
contrast between /au/ and /a/, cow /ka/ cower /ka/. This
contrast is neutralized before /r/, where there may be
indeterminate variation between the diphthong and triphthong,
dowry / dari/ or /dari/.
The second is that which may be represented by a sound
which is distinct from both of the otherwise contrasting
phonemes. Vowel contrasts are reduced before certain
consonants or in unstressed syllables. For example the English
tendency to reduce all vowels to whet so called '
indeterminate //', changing // in 'legality' into / / in 'legal'.

Overlapping Neutralization and Phoneme

Overlapping is defined by Trask (2007:150) as the relation
between two or more phonemes which occur in some, but not all, of
the same positions in words. Overlapping is a term used in
phonology to refer to the possibility that a phone may be assigned to
more than one phoneme (phonemic overlapping). The notion was
introduced by American structural linguists in the 1940s. The
overlapping (or intersection) of phonemes was said to be partial if
a given sound is assigned to phoneme A in one phonetic context and
to phoneme B in another. An example of partial overlap is found
between /r/ and /t/ in some dialects of English, where both are
realized by the tap // in different contexts: /r/ // after dental
fricatives, as in through; /t/ // between vowels, as in butter, and
Complete phonemic overlapping implies that some instances of
a particular allophone are classified as members of a certain
phoneme category on some occasions and as members of another
category in other cases even when all instances occur under the
same phonetic conditions.(Gonzalez, n.d: 451). In other words,
overlap would be complete if successive occurrences of the sound
in the same context are assigned sometimes to A, and sometimes to
B. An example of complete overlap occurs in the case of //, which
may stand for most occurrences of English stressed vowels, when
they occur in unstressed positions (e.g. telegraph telegraphy,
where the first and third vowels reduce to / /).
complementary distribution = allophones of the same phoneme

overlapping distribution = allophones of separate phonemes

According to Collins and Mees (2008: 72) neutralization is seen

as two phonemes may show an overlap in certain phonetic
realization. For example, /m/ and /n/ in the words emphatic,
infatuated are followed by labio-dental /f/ and /v/. The realization of
both /m/ and /n/ may be labio-dental nasal //, giving / ftk/
and /ftuetd/. In this case, there is no way (a part from spelling)
to know whether/ / is /m/ or /n/. Accordingly, overlapping is an
aspect of neutralization since the indeterminacy is a feature of both
overlapping and neutralization.

Gimson (1970: 48) illustrates the example of having // as

phoneme neutralization which is defined as a sound may be assigned
to either of the two phonemes with equal validity. For example, the
words 'symphony' and 'infant' are pronounced likely with nasal
consonant // in rapid speech since /m/ and /n/ are followed by labio-
dental /f/ and /v/. Accordingly, the sound / / allocated either to /m/
or /n/ phoneme. The opposition of /m/ and /n/ has been neutralized.

Neutralization through Assimilation

Carr (2008:16) defines assimilation as a process whereby

two, normally adjacent, sounds become more similar to each
other. In other words, it is the act or process by which a sound
becomes identical with or similar to a neighboring sound in one
or more defining characteristics, as place of articulation, voicing,
or manner of articulation. An example of assimilation for place of
articulation can be found in sequences such as 'ten boys' in
English, where the /n/ of ten tends to assimilate to the place of
articulation of the following bilabial stop: /thmbz/.

Assimilation is, in one sense or another, an aspect of

neutralization. For example the assimilation of /m/ and /n/ into
the labio-dental nasal // as influenced by the following /f/ as in;
'emphatic' and 'infant'. Here, /m/ and /m/ are neutralized to
become / /. Neutralization is one aspect yet it can be defined
differently according to the notion with which it is compared or
used. The previous example, 'emphatic' has been tackled by by
Gimson and Collins but each one analyzed the occurrence in a
different way (see P:6).

It should be noticed that alveolar sounds have a relatively

high frequency of word final occurrence and are particularly apt
to undergo neutralization as redundant oppositions in connected
speech. As always, phonemic oppositions have been neutralized
so the sense of an utterance may be determined by the context,
e.g. 'ran or rang quickly' / ra kwikli/. (Gimson, 1970:295).
Neutralization and Biuniqueness
Biuniqueness is a principle in which a given phone, wherever it
occurs, must unambiguously be assigned to one and only one
phoneme. In other words, the mapping between phones and
phonemes is required to be many-to-one rather than many-to-
many. This means that a phone in a given environment must be
an allophone of one and only phoneme (Lodge, 2009: 25).

An example of the problems arising from the biuniqueness

requirement is provided by the phenomenon of flapping in North
American English. This may cause either /t/ or /d/ (in the
appropriate environments) to be realized with the
phone [] (an alveolar flap). For example, the same flap sound
may be heard in the words hitting and bidding, although it is
clearly intended to realize the phoneme /t/ in the first word
and /d/ in the second.(ibid).

On these cases is the phenomenon of neutralization where

phonetic opposition is suspended or neutralized. Two phonemes
may be distinguished in some environment but in others.
Accordingly, it can be said that the principle of biuniqueness is
Neutralization, Opposition and Consonant
It cannot be overemphasized that without the notion of
'opposition ' the notion of 'neutralization ' is inconceivable; in
other words, the theory of neutralization is a corollary of that of
oppositions (Martinet 1976:9). This is why neutralization can
never be equated with defective distribution; the two are to be
recognized as such and must never be confused with each other.
Opposition forms the central concept in the phonological
teachings of the Prague school of linguistics, which introduced,
in particular, the concept of the neutralization of opposition. As
regards phonology, neutralization is defined as the impossibility
of the existence, in certain contexts, of opposition between
phonemes that are opposed in other positions.
There are many types of phonological opposition; the major
two types are; bilateral and multilateral. The basis of comparison
in bilateral opposition is restricted to two phonemes only. Thus in
English /k/:/g/ is bilateral since the characteristics (velar) and
(stop) are common just to them. On the other hand, the basis of
comparison in multilateral opposition occurs in more than two
According to Trubetzkoy (1939:68) only bilateral oppositions
may neutralize. For example in German, t-d is a bilateral
opposition, because removing the voicing mark results in a set of
features that is not possessed by any other element of the
German system, and indeed, t-d is neutralizable in German: in
the position of neutralization, the phonological value is neither a
voiced stop nor a voiceless stop but an archiphoneme.
(Silverman, 2012:43).
Both neutralization and opposition can be linked to
consonant clusters since one of the oppositional characteristics
that distinguishes /p,t,k/ from /b,d,g/ is the energy and
aspiration of the voiceless plosives. When they occur initially
after /s/, /p,t,k/ lose their aspiration and since there is no
possibility in English to have clusters like; /sb/, /sd/, or /sg/,
then a neutralization will take place. (Collins & Mees, 2008: 72).

Neutralization of Weak Forms

A number of function words may have different pronunciations when they are
accented (stressed or in isolation)and when, more precisely, unaccented. The
unaccented form of these words may be neutralized in isolation. Such
neutralization generally causes no problem to listeners because of the high rate of
redundancy of meaningful cues in English. It is rarely that the context may allow
different interpretation for only one cue supplied by an accented word form. Such
neutralization occurs in rapid, familiar RP: ( Cruttenden, 2013: 294).

/r/ = unaccented are, or

'Ten or under

'Ten are under

// = unaccented the , there

There 'seems a chance

The 'seams are crooked

/s/ = unaccented is, has, does

'What's ('s = does or is ) he 'like?

'What's ('s = has )he 'lost?

/z/ = unaccented is, has, does

'Where's ('s = has, less commonly does) he 'put it?

'Where's ('s = is ) he 'going?

Neutralization of Vowels

Lehnert-LeHouillier ( 2007: 22) states that vowel

neutralization represents a kind of ''centripetal force'' in the
vowel system; it is the tendency toward neutral position. It
has been noted that in many languages that do exhibit a
contrast between long and short vowels, the contrast is
neutralized in the final position. Collins and Mees (2008: 72),
on the other hand, states that neutralization of vowels is
found in the final sound in the words happy, toffee,etc.
This vowel was formerly regarded as // in the description of
traditional RP. The present RP speakers of NRP realize it
either as // or /i:/. It is to take account of the neutralization
of these vowels that modern transcription system use special
symbol /i/, so happy is transcribed as /hpi/.
In GenAm* the opposition that exists between /i/
and //, between /e/, /e/ and //, between /:/ and /o/ and
between /u:/ and // when /r/ follows all neutralized.
(Stephan and Michael, 2004:81).

*Gen= general, Am= American (General American (commonly abbreviated as GA or

GenAm) is a major accent of American English, particularly considered the American
accent that is the most neutral or lacking in distinctive regional.

Neutralization and Archiphoneme

There are several different ways of solving the problem of

neutralization. One way is the use of archiphoneme as Prague
school phonologists suggest. An archiphoneme is a phonological
unit which expresses the common features of two or
more phonemes which are involved in a neutralization. It is
represented by the capital letters. For example, the difference
between t and d is neutralized in word-final position in German.
In a phonological representation using the archiphoneme
concept, the final sounds of words like Rad, Rat would be
transcribed with the symbol /T/ in final position. This symbol
represents an alveolar plosive archiphoneme which is
unspecified for voicing. (McMahon, 2000: 60).

The distinctive features of /T/ are:




0 voice

The other way of solving problem of neutralization is by using

morphophonemic approach saying that it is the phoneme /t/
which occurs finally in both Germanic words Rad, Rat not /d/
and /t/. (Lyons, 1971: 116).

The last way which is proposed by Clark and Yallop(1990:

143) who considered the sound which represent the
neutralization as allophone of a phoneme. It means there is

The Conclusion
The study has reached to the following conclusions:
1. Neutralization is the disappearance of the distinction between two
phonemes in certain environment.
2. It can occur in weak forms, vowels, consonant cluster, and
3. It is similar to overlapping and can be studied through assimilation
since assimilation is an aspect of neutralization.
4. It violates the principle of both biuniqueness and opposition.
5. Its solution is by using the Theory of Archiphoneme which is
introduced by Trubetskoy N. (1939) as it is restricted to the position
of neutralization and is symbolized by the use of capital letter.


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