The project is financed by the Research Council of Norway in its FRIHUMSAM program.
In this project we intend to investigate the role of sonority, the sonority hierarchy and the sonority sequencing principle in the internal organisation of syllables. Preliminary typological findings by Krämer & Zec suggest that the current mainstream theory of syllable organisation is not well-founded empirically and in need of revision.
To investigate these theoretical issues and to be able to develop a more appropriate theory with a better empirical foundation we intend to create a database of the syllable phonotactics of 500 languages and to conduct research on children acquiring a language with complex syllable structure and a large consonant inventory as well as on subjects who lost competence in such a language to some degree, as in aphasia. Theories of phonotactic organisation have been developed and tested to date in individual case studies, or in typological studies with a very limited number of languages. Such studies always focus on very specific aspects of syllable structure or individual classes in the sonority hierarchy. While we appreciate in-depth case studies and narrow theoretical focus we have all reason to believe that these methodological approaches do not lead to appropriate scientific progress in the long run. We think it is necessary for theory development to keep the general picture in sight and test hypotheses on very different types of data (i.e., from acquisition, loss and cross-linguistic variation). The results as well as the data to be obtained in this project will be made publicly available to further scientific discussion of methodologies and development of theoretical models.
Since we intend to carry out research on acquisition and loss we expect that the results of this project will have practical repercussions for the wider population in the development of new diagnostic tests and therapies for language impairment based on the collected data and the theoretical insights gained in this project.