The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 3/7 - Peter Graff and Emad Taliep

This Wednesday’s installment of the Phonology Circle features a talk by Peter Graff and Emad Taliep. They will also be presenting the same talk earlier in the day, at Wednesday 10am in TedLab.

Speakers: Peter Graff and Emad Taliep
Title: English Speakers Track Absolute Frequency in Consonant Co-occurrence
Date: March 7 (Wednesday)
Time: 5:00–7:00
Location: 32D831

Phonotactic wellformedness has been shown to affect behavior in a variety of linguistic tasks such as word-likeness judgments (e.g., Coleman and Pierrehumbert 1997). However, different researchers have often employed rather different measures for phonotactic wellformedness. This is particularly evident in the literature on consonant co-occurrence where two distinct measures of the wellformedness of constellations of consonants separated by vowels (e.g., p_t in pat) have been hypothesized. The first measure is the joint probability (i.e., absolute frequency) of the constellation P(C1_C2). Studies have found, e.g., that the joint probability of labial-coronal constellations (e.g. pat) is greater than the joint probability of coronal-labial ones (e.g. tap) in many different languages (MacNeilage et. al 1999, Carrissimo-Bertola 2010) and children as young as 7 months have been shown to be sensitive to this phonotactic (Nazzi et al. 2009, Gonzalez Gomez and Nazzi 2012). The second measure of wellformedness often employed is the observed- overexpected ratio (O/E) also known as pointwise mutual information (PMI). The difference between PMI and joint probability is that PMI relativizes the joint probability of a constellation to the independent probabilities of its parts such that PMI(C1;C2) = log(P(C1_C2)/(P(C1)·P(C2))), i.e. log(O/E). PMI has been hypothesized as a measure of wellformedness in studies of OCP-Place type phenomena (e.g. Frisch et al. 2004, Coetzee and Pater 2008) and PMI-based generalizations have been shown to affect wordlikeness judgments in languages like Arabic (Frisch and Zawaydeh, 2001). In this study, we compare the patterning of PMI and joint probability in the English lexicon and show that English CVCs present an ideal test-case for disambiguating the two measures. We present results from an online wordlikeness judgment study (N=50) and find that speakers’ judgments are more accurately predicted by joint probability (i.e., absolute frequency) than PMI.