The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, May 20th, 2013

See you in September!  

With this issue, Whamit! goes on its annual summer semi-hiatus —  ”semi” because we may put out an issue or two if our pile of exciting news items gets big enough to justify it.  Otherwise, see you in September!!


Phonology Circle 5/20 - Michelle Fullwood  

Speaker: Michelle Fullwood
Title: The perceptual dimensions of sonority-driven epenthesis
Time/Date: Monday, May 20, 2pm (Note special time)
Location: 32-D831

Vowel epenthesis often appears to preferentially target consonant clusters with rising sonority. One explanation for this tendency is perceptual faithfulness (Fleischhacker 2002, Steriade 2006): rising sonority clusters are more susceptible to epenthesis because the perceptual distance between the underlying /C1 C2/ sequence and its correspondent output sequence [C1 V C2] is small, thus incurring a smaller faithfulness cost.

This raises the question of how to compute the perceptual distance between two sonority contours. I propose that the appropriate metric is Sonority Angle, defined to be the angle formed by C1-C2 and C1-V. Given a standard sonority scale mapping classes of consonants to numerical sonority, this metric predicts a certain hierarchy of susceptibility to epenthesis for consonant clusters.

I present two case studies of sonority-driven epenthesis in Chaha (Ethiopia; Southern Semitic) and Irish (Celtic) that demonstrate the correctness of certain rankings of clusters in the hierarchy, in contrast with alternative proposals.


New paper by Gibson and colleagues  

A new paper by Ted Gibson with Leon Bergen and Steve Piantadosi called “Rational integration of noisy evidence and prior semantic expectations in sentence interpretation” has appeared in PNAS.  If the paper itself is not accessible from your location, you can read an abstract here and some discussion here.


Steriade in Oxford  

Donca Steriade will give a talk at Oxford University on Monday, May 20 (today), at the Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics, entitled “Vowel-to-Vowel Intervals as Rhythmic Units: Evidence From the Typology of Rhyming Domains”.


MIT linguists in Manchester  

MIT will be well represented at the 21st Manchester Phonology Meeting this week (May 23-25), with a number of current students and faculty, as well as recent alums, presenting talks and posters.

    • Michelle Fullwood: The perceptual dimensions of sonority-driven epenthesis
    • Juliet Stanton: Positional restrictions on prenasalized consonants: a perceptual account
    • Adam Albright and Young Ah Do: Biased learning of phonological alternations
    • Maria Giavazzi (PhD, 2010): A rule selection deficit in Huntington’s disease patients: evidence from a morphophonological task
    • Donca Steriade: The cycle without containment: Romanian perfects
    • Andrew Nevins (PhD, 2004): Restrictive theories of harmony (invited talk)
    • Giorgio Magri (PhD, 2009): The stochastic error-driven ranking model of child variation (poster)

“Introduction to Linguistics” for high-school students  

During the spring semester, a group of MIT grad students in linguistics created and taught an “Introduction to Linguistics” class for high school students.

The class was offered through HSSP, a program that allows students in grades 7-12 from all over the Boston area to take classes at MIT at low costs. Classes can be taught by any MIT student and can be about any topic. Our linguistics class had two sections, each co-taught by three teachers (Section 1: Ruth Brillman, Aron Hirsch, Coppe van Urk; Section 2: Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine, Iain Giblin, Hadas Kotek). It offered an interactive introduction to Linguistics as a science and covered such topics as phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, experimental approaches, and dialects.

Hadas and Aron (together with new teachers Mia Nussbaum and Juliet Stanton) will be teaching this class again in the summer, and a second course dealing more specifically with syntax will also be offered by Coppe and Iain. They hope (and we do too!) that teaching such classes through HSSP and making linguistics more accessible to wider audiences will become an MIT Linguistics tradition that will continue in future years.