The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 26th, 2012

Phonology Circle 11/26 - Suyeon Yun

Date: Monday, Nov. 26
Time: 5pm
Location: 32D-831
Presenter: Suyeon Yun (MIT)
Title: The Role of Acoustic Cues in Consonant Cluster Adaptation

In this talk I will argue that cross-linguistic asymmetries in nonnative cluster repairs - namely vowel epenthesis and consonant deletion - result from perceptual similarity between the clusters and their repaired forms. Expanding my survey in Yun (2012), I suggest some new typological generalizations. First, when the edge consonant is a stop, a vowel is most likely to be epenthesized after the stop. If not, the edge stop deletes, while the non-edge stop does not  (e.g., gdansk (Polish) → [dænsk] (English; Yun 2012), ‘compact’ → [khəmpɛkthɨ] (Korean; Yun 2012), ‘blanket’ → [lɛnketti] (Finnish; Karttunen 1977), ‘compact’ → [kompak] (Indonesian; Yun 2012)). Second, when the edge consonant is a sonorant, a vowel is epenthesized before the sonorant. (e.g., lbovskij (Russian) → [ylbovskij] (Kirghiz; Gouskova 2003), rubl’ (Russian) → [rubɯl] (Kirghiz; Yun 2012)). While vowel-adjacent sonorants frequently delete, word-edge sonorants do not delete; even in a language where deletion can be a repair strategy, word-edge sonorants undergo epenthesis rather than deletion (e.g., ‘Swaziland’ → [suasilaan] vs. ‘Seattle’ → [siiaatul] (Inuktitut; Pollard 2008)). In addition, I will report several interesting asymmetries concerning positions, source languages, places of articulation, and voicing in stop adaptations, which cannot be explained by standard phonological constraints. Based on the typology, I will argue that acoustic cues, such as stop release bursts and sonorant-internal cues, play a crucial role in consonant cluster adaptation and formulate them as phonetically-based faithfulness constraints. And it will be shown that interactions between  fixed rankings of the phonetically-based constraints (based on the P-map hypothesis (Steriade 2001/2008)) and markedness constraints successfully account for the comprehensive cross-linguistic patterns of the nonnative cluster repairs.

Syntax Square 11/27 - Michael (mitcho) Erlewine

Speaker: Michael (mitcho) Erlewine
Title: Right-location as deletion (Ott & De Vries)
Date/Time: 27 Nov, 1pm
Location: 32-D461

Mitcho will present Dennis Ott & Mark De Vries’ NELS talk, “Right-dislocation as deletion”. The paper is available here.

Cohen-Priva to speak at Harvard

Uriel Cohen-Priva (Brown U) will be speaking this week at Harvard, in the Language Universals and Linguistic Diversity Colloquium series.

Speaker: Uriel Cohen Priva (Brown University)
Title: Providing universal explanations for language-specific change
Date: Thurs, November 29th 3:30-5pm
Location: Boylston 105

American English often deletes /t/ word-finally, and taps /t/ in intervocalic contexts. Other varieties of English debuccalize and spirantize /t/ in similar contexts. This pattern is not unique to English. Romance languages tend to debuccalize and delete /s/, and varieties of Arabic front, voice and debuccalize /q/. What makes varieties of English repeatedly reduce the articulatory effort of pronouncing /t/ but not /s/? Is there a systematic way to predict which language would prefer to reduce which sound?

I present a new model, MULE, that traces the reasons that lead some languages to preserve sounds that other languages reduce. I show that these phenomena emerge from the balance between two functional forces: information utility and effort avoidance. Information utility is the amount of information that speakers expect a sound would provide — how useful the sound is from an information-theoretic perspective. Therefore, high information utility leads to the preservation of articulatory effort. Effort avoidance is the attempt to reduce articulatory effort, as follows from Zipf’s principle of least effort. In MULE, a sound that provides an insufficient amount of information utility with respect to the articulatory effort it requires is a likely target for an effort-reducing change.

I show theoretically and experimentally how MULE can explain language-specific tendencies to reduce different sounds. Additionally, I demonstrate how the same principles predict language-specific distributional facts, such as a cross-linguistic preference to use highly informative sounds in stressed syllables.

LFRG 11/30 - Salvador Mascarenhas

Speaker: Salvador Mascarenhas (NYU)
Title: Reasoning fallacies and treating premises as questions
Date/Time: Friday November 30, 2:10pm-3:20pm
Location: 32-D831


The capacity to reason is central to all advanced human endeavors. It is fallible, yet pushed to its limits it makes science and philosophy possible. We propose a theory of human reasoning that provides a novel view of fallacies in na ̈ıve reasoning as well as our ability to reason competently. Default reasoning treats premises as questions and maximally strong answers to them, even though premises do not superficially look like questions or answers. As reasoners try to understand each new premise as an answer to the question at hand, they overestimate the relevance and appropriateness of these “answers,” producing fallacious conclusions. Yet, systematically asking a certain type of question as we interpret each new premise allows us to reason in a classically valid way, a result we prove formally.