The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle II 12/13 - Sandrien van Ommen

Speaker: Sandrien van Ommen (Utrecht Institute of Linguistics, OTS) (joint study with Rene Kager)
Date/Time: Friday, Dec 13, 3 pm (please note unusual time)
Location: 32-D831
Title: Language-specific metrical segmentation in Dutch, Turkish, Polish and Hungarian

With the current study we investigated the role of stress as a boundary marker in processing. Previous studies have shown that listeners interpret stressed or strong syllables as potential word-beginnings in a.o. English (Cutler & Norris, 1988), and Dutch (Quené & Koster, 1998; Vroomen & de Gelder, 1995). This is interpreted as evidence for the Metrical Segmentation Hypothesis, which predicts that listeners have and use a parsing ability based on edge-aligned stress. Unfortunately, most empirical evidence supporting this hypothesis comes from languages with (statistically dominant) word-initial stress. Evidence for a facilitatory effect of right-edge aligned stress is sparse and inconclusive (see a.o. Toro-Soto et al., 2007, Cunillera et al. 2008, Kabak et al., 2010). We designed a cross-linguistic experiment to address the question of language-specificity in metrical segmentation. In this experiment, we measured response latencies in a non-word spotting task with six different metrical conditions. The participants were speakers of Dutch (penultimate word-stress, variable), Polish (penultimate word-stress, fixed), Turkish (word-final stress, variable) and Hungarian (word-initial stress, fixed).

Besides finding the expected overall effect of facilitation of the native canonical stress pattern in (non-)word segmentation, we conclude to have found a language-specific anticipitory use of stress in segmentation. Furthermore, the results invite us to further investigate the role of peripherality and variability of stress in processing. To gain more insight into what role these factors may have, we recently started designing a computational model for the acquisition and use of metrical patterns. This is a very recent and tentative project that we welcome discussion on.