The theory. The autosegmental theory can be dated back to the framework that John Goldsmith submitted in 1976 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“Autosegmental phonology” 2009, p. 1). In his thesis statement, he included that “phonological representations consist of more than one linear sequence of segments; each linear sequence constitutes a separate tier” (“Autosegmental phonology” 2009, p. 1). More so, he stated that “[t]here is a close relationship between analysis of segments into distinctive features and an autosegmental analysis; each feature in a language appears on exactly one tier” (“Autosegmental phonology” 2009, p.1).
This proves that the autosegmental phonology is more of a restructuring or reorganization of the autosegments. The suprasegmentals. Goldsmith presented in his paper that the term suprasegmentals phoneme simply refers to “phonemes which are neither vowels nor consonants” (1976, p. 11). This follows the definition made by Rulon Wells in 1945 (Goldsmith 1976, p. 11). Goldsmith adds to this definition, as he attempted to define the word in a more positive way.
He stated, There are two tendencies here in defining suprasegmental: either one defines a process or feature as suprasegmentals from the outset—in effect, making it something independent of the linguistic analysis of any particular language; or else suprasegmentals is a name we give to any process we find occurring in a particular language when it displays certain general properties, either of distribution… [or] of behavior with respect to rules and rule applications.
(Goldsmith 1976, p. 12) In the same way that syllabification is an independent structure that interacts with other known factors more related to word margins, this statement that Goldsmith mentions can be related to the former hypothesis, as it relates that suprasegmentals, from the outset, is something that is independent of other words, sounds, or letters. It testifies that suprasegmentals is an independent structure in the same way that syllabification is also independent.
However, when the definition of suprasegmentals is taken from the other point of view that Goldsmith mentioned, the one pertaining to “any process we find occurring in a particular language when it displays certain general properties, either of distribution… [or] of behavior” (1976, p. 12), then it is being made evident that syllabification is a phonetic unit, since it relates to spoken language or speech sounds, which are the properties according to the definition of the term ‘phonetic’. Suprasegmentals rely often on the manner in which it is being taken or defined.
Syllabification too, often relies in the manner that it is being defined. The phonological system of language. According to the work of Bernard Bloch in 1948 entitled ‘A Set of Postulates for Phonemic Analysis’, he identified that “a feature that is common to all the segments of a span is a feature of the span itself, not of any segment in the span” (Bloch 1948, p. 36). Goldsmith identifies the statement as inconsistent, stating that “if we define a feature of a span in terms of the features of the segments of the span, we cannot then say that the segments in that span do not have those features” (1976, p.21).
From this theory it is being made evident that features of a span’s segment do not relatively mean the features of the span itself; and the features of the phonemes of the suprasegmentals do not relatively mean the features of the syllable itself but rather, that the features of the syllable, as a whole, would mean the features of some (or all) of the segments of the span. Autosegmental phonology is indeed, more of a restructuring of the autosegments of syllables.
Features of autosegments and segments. As Goldsmith stated, “Features by themselves do not spread; they merely identify a segment for what it is. The domain of the association of an autosegment, on the other hand, does spread, quite automatically” (1976, p. 22). With this in notion, it can be concluded that features of the phonemes spread quite automatically, while forming and affecting the feature of the whole segment, as it identifies a segment for what it is.
With this, it is apparent that it would be more consistent if we take the side that suprasegmentals is “a name we give to any process we find occurring in a particular language when it displays certain general properties, either of distribution… [or] of behavior with respect to rules and rule applications” (Goldsmith 1976, p. 12). It cannot be proven as an independent structure because they “identify a segment for what it is” (Goldsmith 1976, p. 22), while identifying the segment and the autosegments spreading automatically. Features can only be defined from the outset if proven that the autosegments function independently.