a1 University of Chicago
This paper offers a careful reading of an article published by Rulon Wells in Language in 1949 on the subject of automatic alternations in phonology. Read with a modern eye, it reveals that phonologists were exploring the value and use of phonological derivations, including both abstract representations and intermediate representations, in the late 1940s. Contrary to what has been suggested in the literature, Bloomfield's explorations in rule ordering published in 1939 were not isolated and without influence. Our conclusion is the null hypothesis: that there is an intellectual continuity from the work of Sapir and Bloomfield, through that of Wells and Harris, to that of Chomsky & Halle. We conclude by offering some suggestions as to why this is not widely recognised in the field.
* The present paper is part of a larger project, in progress, on the history of phonology, conducted with Bernard Laks. I am indebted to him for a great deal of discussion on these topics, as I am to a range of colleagues, including Pierre Encrevé, Morris Halle, Geoffrey Huck, Charles Hockett, Sidney Lamb and Jason Riggle. I am also grateful for comments from Robert Ladd, François Dell, Peter Daniels and the editors of this journal.
I have profited from the views of a number of scholars regarding the spirit and views of the period treated in this paper, notably Stephen Anderson (1985), Eli Fischer-Jørgensen (1975), H. A. Gleason, who kindly gave me a copy of an unpublished manuscript, dated 1988, on the history of American linguistics in the 20th century, Dell Hymes & John Fought (1981) and James Kilbury (1976). Kilbury, for his part, sees the style of Wells' paper as ‘rather forbidding’; this reader had rather the opposite reaction, as we will see below.