An overview of the basic ideas of articulatory phonology is presented, along with selected examples of phonological patterning for which the approach seems to provide a particularly insightful account. In articulatory phonology, the basic units of phonological contrast are gestures, which are also abstract characterizations of articulatory events, each with an intrinsic time or duration. Utterances are modeled as organized patterns (constellations) of gestures, in which gestural units may overlap in time. The phonological structures defined in this way provide a set of articulatorily based natural classes. Moreover, the patterns of overlapping organization can be used to specify important aspects of the phonological structure of particular languages, and to account, in a coherent and general way, for a variety of different types of phonological variation. Such variation includes allophonic variation and fluent speech alternations, as well as ‘coarticulation’ and speech errors. Finally, it is suggested that the gestural approach clarifies our understanding of phonological development, by positing that prelinguistic units of action are harnessed into (gestural) phonological structures through differentiation and coordination.
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