Minimality as a Universal Principle of Phonological Change

Marc Picard 1
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1Concordia University

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


The minimality of phonological change is a tried-and-true principle that is meant to ensure that any proposed regular sound change will obey the all-important and fundamental criterion of naturalness by severely constraining the types of modifications that segments can undergo. It has shown itself to be an indispensable aid in setting up the most plausible and realistic reconstructions and relative chronologies by establishing clearcut demarcations between observed sound correspondences and actual sound changes. However, the validity and usefulness of this principle has recently been called into question by Scheer (2004) who argues that its application can lead to scenarios in which an inordinate number of steps can be proposed to link one historical segmental stage to another, or where no evidence, dialectal or otherwise, can be adduced to set up some intermediate stage that the principle of minimality would require to exist between two diachronically corresponding sounds. To this end, he adduces data involving (1) the velarization of dental stops in Cologne German, (2) the assibilation and fronting of velar stops in French, and (3) the Second German Consonant Shift. In this paper, I will review the cases described by Scheer in order to show that they do not contravene or invalidate the principle of minimality in any way.

Keywords: sound change; universal constraints; minimality



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