What's the protocol…

…for replying to more than one post at once? Should you follow up each individually, or lump them together? I would’t want to overgenerate a typology of possible blog structures.

But I wanted to add my bit to John’s and Eric’s recent posts.


John asks, what do people who study sound think “laboratory phonology” is? In some ways, a hard question; hard enough to be an orals question I think. (But not as hard as “what’s phonology?” — anyone else ever have to answer that one?)

Probably a basic description is too vague, e.g. “lab research (acoustic perceptual and/or articulatory) about sounds of language(s)” — obviously this does not distinguish laboratory phonology from laboratory phonetics. So my attempt at a more precise distinction is that it’s lab phonology if the lab research is meant to test a hypothesis about categories and/or categorization. E.g., sounds X and Y are perceived as “the same category” despite measurable differences in phonetic characteristics, or sounds X and Y are perceived as different categories despite negligible differences in phonetic characteristics.

Eric provides a thoughtful rant about theory-argumentation (although I think “rant” is too harsh a descriptor for it). If you didn’t read it, here’s a summary: the OT analysis incorrectly predicts a certain type of language to be possible, while the rule-ordered analysis does not. Eric argues that both frameworks make the same prediction.

My take on the moral of the story is that the overgeneration argument should be put to bed. At a recent LSA Charles Reiss presented a derivational stress-assigning parser – it seemed that it allowed some really weird stress patterns to be learned, like a stress every four syllables. I asked about it, and he replied that it was possible, but no learner would ever encounter the evidence to generalize to that system. I’m totally satisfied with that answer; it’s the essential gist of Reiss’s research – but it opens up the same response to any potentially overgenerative system. So, an OT model of tone assignment can describe the hypothetical but unattested language (Kintupu) – but no learner would encounter such evidence, so Kintupu just would never evolve into its peculiar representational state.

On a different note, my recent move to California has me anticipating much hilarity in encountering the local speech. I was expecting a great deal of centralization of vowels, expecially round ones migrating forward. Imagine my surprise when I heard someone encouraging his friends to “get a move on”… I thought the vowel in “move” would be a dipthong, with perhaps barred-[i] as a nucleus, but no, it was all the way forward! Sounded to my ear like [myu:v]. I was stunned.

Bob K

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.