The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Harvard Phonology Talk 2/28 - Gillian Gallagher

Recent MIT alum Gillian Gallagher (currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at New York University) will speak on Monday at Harvard.

Title: Contrast and non-local dependencies
Time: Monday, February 28, 5:00pm
Location: Boylston Hall, third floor, room 335

In this talk, I argue that long-distance phonological dependencies are grounded in perceptual asymmetries. The analytical claims are

  1. That laryngeal cooccurrence restrictions are restrictions on the perceptual strength of contrasts between roots, as opposed to restrictions on laryngeal configurations in isolated roots, and
  2. That laryngeal cooccurrence restrictions are restrictions on auditory, as opposed to articulatory, features.

Both long-distance laryngeal dissimilation, where roots may have one but not two laryngeally marked stops (MacEachern 1999), and assimilation, where stops in a root must agree in laryngeal features (Hansson 2001; Rose and Walker 2004) are given a unified account based on a grammatical pressure to neutralize indistinct contrasts. The contrast based analysis is supported by the empirical finding that certain non- adjacent sounds interact with one another in perception. Specifically, the perception of a contrast in ejection or aspiration is degraded in roots with another ejective or aspirate, as compared to roots with another plain stop (e.g. the pair k’ap’i-kap’i is more confusable than the pair k’api-kapi). Roots that are minimally distinguished by having one vs. two laryngeally marked stops are confusable with one another (e.g. k’ap’i is confusable with kap’i), and thus languages may avoid having both types of forms.

The analysis integrates long-distance phonological neutralizations with analyses of local neutralizations based on phonetic cues and contrast strength (Flemming 1995, 2004, 2006; Steriade 1997), showing that both local and non-local phenomena are driven by grammatical constraints against perceptually indistinct contrasts.