About Q-theory

Q theory is a novel approach to phonological segmentation. In Q theory, the traditional concept of segment is replaced with an ordered array of featurally uniform subsegments (q1 q2 q3). In the canonical case, a traditional segment (consonant or vowel) consists of three subsegments, roughly corresponding to closure, target, and release. Related conceptually to Autosegmental Phonology, to the Aperture complexes of Steriade 1993, 1994 and to the coordinated gestural scores of Articulatory Phonology, Q Theory revolutionizes the standard phonological representation of contour segments (e.g., mb, kh, nts) and contour tones (e.g., LHL). Embedding Q Theory within Agreement-By-Correspondence Theory (termed “ABC+Q”) eliminates the need for autosegmental representations, as the many-to-one linkages of Autosegmental Phonology are replaced by q sequences, and the one-to-many linkages by correspondence. The three-part representations afforded in Q Theory both provide an upper limit on the complexity expected in phonological segments, while providing ABC with the rich descriptive adequacy needed to model some of the partial and total assimilation effects that eluded previous models.
Current Research

Our current work has been exploring representations that manipulate the number of subsegments to capture a segment’s phonological status. Q Theory represents a segment as a string of three temporally-ordered subsegments, but this number can vary. For instance, geminates demonstrate the benefits of a 4-subsegmental representation, which can be further extended in cases of complex segments.

We are also exploring the claim that the fewer the subsegments, the less robust the phonological status of a segment effecting the vowel quality, ability to bear stress and tone, it’s propensity to head a syllable, and to undergo phonological processes.

See our [Research Page] for more info about our ongoing work!

Our Q-Theory Lab began with Stephanie Shih and Sharon Inkelas and has grown out the community of UC Berkeley Phonologists.

See our [People Page] to learn more about our team!