The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, May 12th, 2008

Phonology Circle - May 12 - Claire Halpert, Guillaume Thomas  

In preparation for WCCFL, this week’s Phonology Circle will feature another double header, with talks by Claire Halpert and Guillaume Thomas.

Time: Monday May 12, 5pm
Location: 32-D831

Claire Halpert: Overlap-Driven Consequences of Zulu Nasal Place Assimilation

I examine the behavior of two noun class prefixes in Zulu, um- and iN. Nasals in iN- prefixes must become homorganic to a following C; they delete when there is no adjacent C. The nasal in um- prefixes surface in all contexts, with invariant features. I assume that the former nasals are underlyingly placeless and can only surface when place-assimilated. All Zulu homorganic NC clusters where the nasal has undergone place assimilation display secondary effects on C. I focus on three effects: de-aspiration of aspirated consonants, affrication of fricatives, and loss of implosion. The presence of these effects in assimilated NC clusters contrasts with their absence in non-place-assimilated mC clusters, suggesting that the secondary effects are directly linked to the process of place assimilation. I propose that nasal place assimilation in Zulu results in close transition between N and the following C, allowing place gestures of C to overlap the nasal, providing it with a place of articulation. A side effect of close transition, however, is that other of C’s gestures also overlap the nasal. This overlap becomes problematic for recovering nasality (cf. Silverman 1997, Browman & Goldstein 2000), particularly when it is overlapped by aspiration and glottalization. I argue that as a result of this close transition, some of these problematic features are lost from the entire cluster. In contrast, mC clusters remain in open transition, avoiding instances of problematic overlap.

Guillaume Thomas: An Analysis of the Xiamen Tone circle

The tone system of Xiamen presents systematic tone sandhi, organized in a circular fashion. This process is notorious for appearing to rely on a noncomputable function that is not analyzable in classical OT (Moreton: 1999). The analysis of circular shifts of this type faces two challenges: one is the identification of the constraints that motivate the circular move. The other challenge is completeness: the analysis of the Xiamen circle must evaluate 3,125 candidates, the number of permutations with repetitions of the five citation tones (assuming that the set of possible sandhi tones is identical to the set of citation tones).

I will a present a simple analysis of the phenomenon, that uses Contrast Preservation (Lubowicz: 2003) and a modified notion of Faithfulness, in a grammar where each candidate is a scenario that represents a mapping between each of the five citation tones of Xiamen, and its corresponding sandhi tone. Using a simple Perl script (written with the indispensable help of Adam) to automate the OT analysis, I will demonstrate that my analysis picks out the attested winner among the 3,125 candidates.


Wôpanâak Language Project in Technology Review  

The May/June issue of Technology Review has an interesting feature on the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, which has the goal of reviving the use of Wampanoag, the Algonquian language once spoken on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. Our department has been involved with this project since 1996, when Jessie Littledoe Baird came here to work with Ken Hale; Norvin Richards joined the project when he joined the faculty, and continues to work on it.

[Thanks Norvin!]

PS. If you want to know how the project is discussed in the blogosphere, check out this post on Languagehat.