This chapter outlines some general aspects of English phonotactics. A central point is that the phonotactic system of English has witnessed historical instability with the result that a number of consonants have changed their tactic behaviour. This tendency may be explained by the fact that English is typologically unusual, belonging to the minority of the world’s languages that admit clusters of consonants within a syllable structure. Clusters are rarer than the individual consonants they contain and they undergo modification because minority features adapt to majority patterns. As a result, a number of clusters (both in word-initial and -final environments) have been reduced to a single consonant with which they effectively merged, and English displays several deletion and insertion strategies to modify clusters. This chapter serves as the theoretical backbone for the analytical and empirical chapters, discussing and illustrating the most frequent techniques that are employed to ‘repair’ anomalous phonotactic structures. Some processes operate over lengthy periods of time (for example, representing continuations of changes that began in Proto-Germanic), whereas others are ad hoc and manifest themselves more quickly; the interplay of both accounts for the complexity of this feature.
KeywordsConsonant Cluster Child Language Syllable Structure Syllable Type Language Contact
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