The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Harvard Phonology Talks 2/7 - Kevin Ryan

There will be five phonology talks at Harvard in February, with the first two this week.

Speaker: Kevin Ryan (UCLA)
Title: Gradient weight in phonology
Time: Monday, February 7, 5:00pm
Location: Boylston Hall 335 (third floor)

Research on syllable weight in the generative tradition has focused almost exclusively on systems in which weight is treated as an ordinal (strict domination) scale of clearly delineated categories (e.g. heavy and light). As I discuss, stress and poetic meter can also treat weight as a gradient interval scale in which (1) differences between types are matters of relative degree and (2) there is no clear segregation of types into categories. I propose modeling such systems in a probabilistic Harmonic Grammar framework (as in e.g. Goldwater & Johnson 2003, Hayes & Wilson 2008, Ryan 2010) with gradiently violable constraints (cf. Flemming 2001, Zhang 2007, Pater to appear). Investigating gradient weight systems allows the phonetics/phonology of weight to be put under a microscope, so to speak, yielding new evidence supporting and extending phonological universals: First, the scales that emerge language-internally in the gradient realm recapitulate the universal hierarchy inferred from the crosslinguistic categorical typology (Gordon 2006). Second, factors in weight that are relatively marginal in the categorical typology (e.g. properties of onsets) are shown to exert statistical effects even in languages in which such factors play no role in categorization.

Upcoming phonology talks at Harvard:
2/10: Michael Becker (Harvard), “Universal Grammar protects Initial Syllables” (Abstract, PDF)
2/14: Matthew Wolf (Yale)
2/24: Karen Jesney (UMass Amherst)
2/28: Gillian Gallagher (NYU)