The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Public Defense 5/7: Gillian Gallagher

Gillian Gallagher will have a public dissertation defense this Friday, May 7, at 11 am in 32-155. The defense will begin with a presentation, which will be under an hour. There will be cherry scones and juice. Please come!

Title: The perceptual basis of laryngeal cooccurrence restrictions
Time: Friday, May 7, 11AM
Place: 32-155

The two main arguments in this dissertation 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.

The interaction between ejectives and aspirates in Quechua provides evidence for auditory features. These two articulatorily disparate sounds pattern together in the cooccurrence restrictions of Quechua, showing that some feature must pick them out as a class. It is argued that ejectives and aspirates may pattern together because they share long voice onset time. It is shown that defining laryngeally marked stops based on their language specific auditory properties correctly accounts both for ejective-aspirate interactions in Quechua and also for the interaction between ejectives and implosives in Hausa and Tz’utujil. The results of a perception experiment further support the status of long VOT as a property to which the grammar refers.