[sɜɹfsʌpdydz]—Stephen Politzer-Ahles SpecGram Vol CLXXXVII, No 4 Contents Historical Reviews of Contemporaneous Interest—Tish O’Clair and Colin Fait

Sonority: A Space Elevator Story

By Matthew “MattGyver” Lee, Student at Dallas Intergalactic University

Disclaimer: This document is the result of an assignment from Dr. Steve Parker to explain Sonority in the style of an elevator speech to a specific audience, and I chose Star Wars geeks. Please enjoy the citations. No offense is intended to any of those cited here, living, force ghost, or imaginary.

I watched the new Star Wars trailers before writing this. Able to tell you might be. Hrmmm (Yoda 3ABY).

To adapt a sentiment from Lovestrand (2014), any claim of a universal and well-defined ranking in linguistics might very well be a lie. Nevertheless, sonority, like many generalizations, is at the very least a promising and productive lie that is useful to study and build on.

Sonority is the force that gives all phonologists their power (to be more precise, sonority and NSF Grants (Maling et al. 2019)). It is a mysterious energy found in all vocal sounds. It surrounds all classes of vocal sound in the universe and binds every class together in an orderly way.

Loudness and intensity lead to sonority. Sonority leads to an open mind (I mean vocal tract). An open vocal tract leads back to sonority. (Parker 2002:44–47) Sonority leads to clear communication, and clear communication leads to war and rebellion (see Babel Fish (Adams 1979) or The Tower of Babylon (Moses 1280 B.C.E., Chiang 2016)). Paradoxically, both anger and excitement may lead to more sonority. If this seems circular (Parker 2002:38, Ohala and Kawasaki-Fukumori 1997:344) to you, you are probably already lost to the Dark Side.

When the force is in perfect harmony, the points of highest tension are preceded by and followed by a rhythmic lessening of energy like the dunes of Tatooine (Lorenz 2013) and the force resists imbalance by misplaced dark l’s, all-too-light onsets, or puny core sounds. Disturbances in the force can be produced by extra-sonoric wills of the language, but as we hyper-jump from the onset to coda, the sacred flow of the force tends to return to balance (Vennemann 2011:50).

When a sound is pronounced in a word, and no one is around to hear it, is it still sonorous (Wolf 1871)? This is a great thought to ponder.

Mastery of the force will give you great insight into the mysteries of the syllable (Molnar 2019), both minimal and maximal. It will allow you to sense the hidden boundaries between the sounds around you. It will allow you to predict the future of the word, and it will teach you more about the Universe’s six million languages (Thor 2016) than you could ever learn from C-3PO. Actually, sonority may explain why his best buddy is named R2D2 (“Artoo-Deetoo”), and why “Deetoo-Artoo” sounds like bantha fodder (Hutt 4ABY, Dineen and Miller 1998, Parker 2003:359). Sonority probably can’t explain the start of the name “Skywalker” (Goad 2011:2)... but hey, everyone needs a little mystery in their lives.

Some fear that Darth Ohala seeks to start a final sonic war (Ohala 1990), but others (Hyde 2013, Pons-Moll 2016) whisper that Master Parker is the chosen one that will bring balance and order to the force. Every master needs a padawan, but choose your side wisely, the fate of Universal Grammar (Searchinger et al. 1995) rests with you!


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Goad, H. 2011. “The Representation of sC Clusters.” In The Blackwell Companion to Phonology (pp. 1–26). John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Hutt, Jabba the. 4ABY. “Bantha Fodder.” Wookiepedia. 4ABY.
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Moses (attrib). 1280 B.C.E. Genesis 11:1–9. In Holman Christian Standard Bible.
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Ohala, J. J., and H. Kawasaki-Fukumori. 1997. “Alternatives to the Sonority Hierarchy for Explaining Segmental Sequential Constraints.” Trends in Linguistic Studies and Monagraphs 100: 343–66.
Parker, Stephen G. 2002. Quantifying the Sonority Hierarchy. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts dissertation.
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Pons-Moll, C. 2016. “Steve Parker (Ed.) 2012. The Sonority Controversy. (Phonology and Phonetics 18.).” Phonology 33 (1): 195–207.
Searchinger, Gene, Noam Chomsky, Frederick J. Newmeyer, Lila R. Gleitman, George A. Miller, and Lewis Thomas. 1995. The human language series. New York, N.Y.: Ways of Knowing.
Thor, Rand al’. 2016. “How Many Languages Does a Protocol Droid Typically Know?” StackExchangeSciFi. 2016.
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Yoda 3ABY. “Yoda.” Wookieepedia. 3ABY.

[sɜɹfsʌpdydz]Stephen Politzer-Ahles
Historical Reviews of Contemporaneous InterestTish O’Clair and Colin Fait
SpecGram Vol CLXXXVII, No 4 Contents