Variable external sandhi in a communication-oriented phonology
In communicative or message-oriented approaches to phonology, variable phonological alternations are licensed according to how they facilitate the robust identification of meaning. I illustrate this approach using two case studies of American English – intervocalic /t/ alternations and nasal place assimilation – and argue that it makes novel predictions about the variable application of these phenomena that are unexpected within alternative usage-based theories that emphasize the role of routinization and repetition in phonological variation. For each case, I present evidence from a corpus study which supports the predictions of a communication-oriented phonology. These results suggest how connected-speech processes might be shaped by functional pressures, and complicate a view of such processes as lenition. More generally, they point toward the need to take into account the communicative function of phonological alternants when describing where and why they are likely to occur.