Universals, their Violation and the Notion of Phonologically Peculiar Languages

Vladimir Pericliev 1
Author Information & Copyright
1Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


A language can be said to be “peculiar” if it violates a universal pattern that admits only very few exceptions. In the paper, we propose a typology of phonological peculiarities concerning the content of segment inventories, and deal in detail with one of these types. The type involves the illegitimate absence of a segment that an implicational universal predicts should actually be present in the segment inventory of a language. A computer program retrieved 33 phonological peculiarities of this type in the UCLA Phonological Segment Inventory Database (UPSID), comprising 451 languages. It turned out that 391 of these languages had no peculiarity of the type studied, 43 had one, and 17 more than one peculiarity. Some observations are made regarding the last category of 17 “strongly peculiar” languages. In particular, it is shown that despite their strong phonological idiosyncrasy, the peculiar languages have only a limited variability in that they cannot violate more than six universals or have more than three distinct segments lacking.

Keywords: phonological universals; types of phonological peculiarities; gaps in segment inventories



Comrie, B. 1981. Language Universals and Linguistic Typology. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.


Croft, W. 1990. Typology and Universals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Derbyshire, D. & G. Pullum. 1981. Object-initial Languages. International Journal of American Linguistics 47, 192-214.


Dryer, M., M. Haspelmath, D., & B. Comrie (eds.). (forthcoming). World Atlas of Language Structure. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Gamkrelidze, T. 1978. On the Correlation of Stops and Fricatives in a Phonological System. In J. Greenberg (ed.), Universals of Human Language 2: 9-46. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.


Gerov, N. 1897. Rečnik na Bălgarskii Ezik. (A Dictionary of Bulgarian Language). Plovdiv: Druzestvenna Pečatnitsa "Săglasie".


Greenberg, J. 1966. Some Universals of Grammar with Particular Reference to the Order of Meaningful Elements. In J. Greenberg (ed.), Universals of Language 73-113. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Greenberg, J. 1966. Language Universals with Special Reference to Fea- ture Hierarchies. The Hague: Mouton.


Keenan, E. 1978. The Syntax of Subject-final Languages. In W. Lehmann (ed.), Syntactic Typology 267-327. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.


Maddieson, I. 1984. Patterns of Sounds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Maddieson, 1991. Testing the Universality of Phonological Generalizations with a Phonetically Specified Segment Database: Results and limitations. Phonetica 48, 193-206.


Maddieson, 1999. In Search of Universals. Proceedings of the 14th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences 2521-2528.


Maddieson, I. & K. Precoda 1991. Updating UPSID. UCLA Working Papers in Phonetics 74, 104-114.


McClave, J. & F. Dietrich 1988. Statistics. San Francisco & London: Dellen Publishing Company & Collier MacMillan Publishing Company.


Odden, D. 2003. Languages and Universals. Journal of Universal Language 4, 33-74.


Pericliev, V. 1999. Further Implicational Universals in Greenberg's Data (a Computer-generated Article). Săpostavitelno ezikoznanie (Contrastive Linguistics) 24, 39-51.


Pericliev, V. 2000. More Statistical Implicational Universals in Greenberg's Data (another Computer-generated Article). Săpostavitelno Ezikoznanie (Contrastive Linguistics) 25, 115-125.


Pericliev, V. 2002a. Economy in Formulating Typological Generalizations. Linguistic Typology 6, 49-68.


Pericliev, V. 2002b. A Linguistic Discovery System that Verbalises its Dis- coveries. In COLING, Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on Computational Linguistics 1258-1262, August 24 -September 1. Taipei, Taiwan.


Pericliev, V. 2003. An Appraisal of UNIVAUTO—the First Discovery Program to Generate a Scientific Article. In G. Grieser, Y. Tanaka, & A.Yamamoto (eds.), Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Discovery Science (DS 2003) 429-436.


Plank, F. 1986. Paradigm Size, Morphological Typology, and Universal Economy. Folia Linguistica 20, 29-48.


Plank, F. & E. Filimonova. 2000. The Universals Archive: A Brief Introduction for Prospective Users. Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung 53, 109-123.


Pullum, G. K. 1991. The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.