Category Archives: General

Meet, match, fit — what’s your poison?

I’ve been working a lot on stuff that requires me to write about strings that “X the structural description of” some rule, and in going back over what I’ve written I find that I alternate among three values of X: meet, match, and (much less often) fit. I’m most used to meet, but on some days I prefer match; Google fits my profile, with about 10 times as many hits for “meets the structural description of” than for “matches the structural description of” (though I haven’t expanded the search for other variations of the relevant lemmas and possible phrasings). What do you prefer to use, and why? I’d be curious to see. In the meantime, I’m changing all of my “match”-es to “meet”-s. Ah, consistency.

A message from the LINGUIST List

Unlike phonoloblog, the LINGUIST List has a staff of students who require funding to keep list going. Please consider contributing a little something during their current fund drive. The message from Anthony Aristar copied below clarifies. Since this message was sent out a few days ago, the fund drive has gotten around $20,000 closer to their goal of $60,000. But more is still needed!

Here’s the quick link to donate:

Dear Listowners:

As you know, the LINGUIST List provides you with Listserv facilities without any charge. We do this because we feel that it is important that there be no barriers to the free interchange of information between those interested in language and linguistics, and we know that many of you have no access to good Listserv software, or to any place to archive their postings. We’re genuinely happy to help with this.

However, as you also probably know, running the LINGUIST site, with its servers and expensive software — four Unix servers, five Oracle databases, Coldfusion server, Listserv, map server and Java and PHP servers — is not cheap. The only way we can provide these services free is to do what we do now, and have an annual fund drive.

This has been a bad year for everyone and everything… And our fund drive is no exception. We are only halfway to our goal of $60,000, and the fund drive has been running for almost three weeks. Frankly, we are getting worried… So we’re writing this message to ask if you would be generous enough to send a call to your members — if you haven’t done this already — asking them to contribute to our drive, so that the services we have been providing, for free, we can continue to provide… for free.

You know that we send you messages like this very rarely. We don’t want to bother you. And we’d like to emphasize that there is no obligation on your part to do as we are asking. This is entirely voluntary.

But if you would be willing to help us, and ask your list-members to contribute, we’d be very grateful. Our donation page is:

Thank you very much!

Anthony Aristar
Moderator, LINGUIST

Yuki & Yokuts

I’m pretty sure that the readership of this blog (all 2 of you) is a proper subset of the readership of Language Log, but just in case you were absent one of these two days, my UCSD emeritus colleague Yuki Kuroda passed away late last month. I’ve since spent a little time (with several other folks in my department) working on a website for Yuki, with his obituary, a comprehensive bibliography, many remembrances, and more.

And I’ve also spent time thinking about Yuki’s classic 1967 contribution to phonological theory, Yawelmani Phonology. (Click the link — it’s a new $20 MIT Press Classics Series edition.) The Yawelmani variety of Yokuts is now more commonly/correctly referred to as Yowulmne; since neither name can be found in the Ethnologue, I will henceforth refer to it as Yokuts. (Plus, I think that looks and sounds cooler next to Yuki’s name in the title of this post.)

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Do phonologists mispell "Tatamagouche"?

Hello, this is basically avoidance behavior, but I thought some of you might like to know…

“Tatamagouche” is a small town in Nova Scotia (,_Nova_Scotia). The similar “Tatamagouchi” appears in SPE (Chomsky and Halle 1968, 114) as an example word, as part of the data justifying a phonological rule that assigns secondary stress in long words.

A Google search on “Tatamagouchi” yields mostly works in phonological theory addressing English stress assignment. I conjecture, therefore, that Chomsky and Halle made a spelling mistake in SPE (or used an archaic spelling) which has since been carried forward by other phonologists, myself included. Cheers, Bruce Hayes

Internets anonymous

There are a few things that Eric and I disagree on, one of them being the merits of Rush–I mean, seriously Eric, how can you listen to that crap. Another thing we disagree on appears to be whether it’s OK to argue phonology anonymously on the internets. In the Opacity Kerfluffle chez Mr. Verb, Eric got miffed at Cassaday whatshisorhername for not coming out of the shadows:

I was apparently inappropriately offended at Cassaday’s combination of willingness to be just as nasty as I was and unwillingness to be identified.

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Phonological Opacity Effects in Optimality Theory

IULC Publications is pleased to announce the release of the 6th volume in its working papers series titled “Phonological Opacity Effects in Optimality Theory”, edited by Ashley W. Farris-Trimble and Daniel A. Dinnsen. This working papers series highlights the work of graduate students, faculty, and alumni of Indiana University. Information on ordering and the table of contents for this volume can be found at the IULC Publications website A number of other phonology-specific titles can also be found.

Myanmar and English phonemes

It has struck me over the past couple of weeks that the way news readers pronounce the ‘new’ name of Burma says something about English vowel phonemes. Most of them are incapable of pronouncing Myanmar with an initial nasal+glide (as I believe it’s supposed to be pronounced: Wikipedia entry). Instead what we hear is generally something along the lines of


Presumably, if the /ju/ sequence in English in words like ‘mute’ were biphonemic (as in, say, the Trager-Smith phonemicization), the /j/ would be freely combinable and /mja-/ would be easy. But it’s not. So we could guess that /ju/ is a unit phoneme (similar to /aɪ/, or even /u(w)/ and the palatal glide is an integral part of the phoneme and thus not separable to be combined with any random vowel that another language might need.
Anyway, just a random thought I wanted to post somewhere while the news was still current.

More aggressive reduplication?

Since reading Kie Zuraw’s work on aggressive reduplication (changes where “already-similar syllables are made more similar”, with no apparent phonotactic rationale), I’ve noticed several other possible cases of this in English. As I will probably never use this list for anything else, I offer it here as data for anyone interested in this topic.

As in Zuraw’s paper, rough popularity is indicated by number of Google hits.

Non-standard form ghits Standard form ghits
Barbar the elephant 1,230 Babar the elephant 21,900
Yuri Gargarin 3,780 Yuri Gagarin 312,000
Klu Klux Klan 132,000 Ku Klux Klan 1,700,00
buproprion 95,500 bupropion 4,020,000
snuffalufagus 23,000 snuffalupagus 7,800
snuffleufagus 1,250 snuffleupagus 115,000
onaconna 850
marscarpone 45,400 mascarpone 2,290,000

(“Onaconna” is a deliberate misspelling of “on account of”.)

As evidence of how these pronunciations arise, I can attest that my daughter (3;8) spontaneously starting saying “Barbar” although I was careful to use the correct pronunciation in her first exposure to the Babar books.

Another possibly related case is the Biblical pair Priscilla and Aquilla: Kenyon & Knott 1953 note that Aquilla is often incorrectly given second syllable stress, apparently to make it rhyme with Priscilla. But since this involves making two words rhyme, perhaps it better falls under the rubric of “paradigmatically echoic words” than aggressive reduplication.


Kenyon, J.S. & T. A. Knott (1953) “A Pronouncing Dictionary of American English”. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster.


Following up on Nancy Hall’s discussion of the Lutfi > Lufti transposition, I’m just as curious about the growth in the same setting (i.e. celebrity journalism) of the combining form celebu– [səlɛbju], as in celebu-wreck and celebu-freak. One Google search on {celebu*} also yields celebu-world, celebu spawn, celebu-wishes, celebu-goo, celebu-shambles, celebu-trend, celebu-architect, celebu-campaign, celebu-moms, and celebutantes.

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Phonology and celebritology

 Anyone interested in syllable contact and metathesis should take note of the current news reports about Britney Spears. Her manager, whose real name is apparently Sam Lutfi, is frequently called Sam Lufti by reporters.

Currently, “Sam  Lutfi” gets 76,700 Google hits, while “Sam Lufti” gets 60,000.

Why I Don't Love the International Phonetic Alphabet

[ Guest post by Sally Thomason, from Language Log; some links added by EB. ]

Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea of an international phonetic alphabet, and most of the IPA symbols are the same as the phonetic symbols used by linguists all over the world, including me. But some of them are different, and some of those differences make the IPA non-ideal for me, and I suspect for a lot of other fieldworkers out there too. Some of my reasons are fairly trivial, but one of them is a serious problem. I’ll save that one for last.

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Support the Sami

Fellow phonologist Bruce Morén recently began a discussion on LINGUIST List entitled “Cultural Sensitivity & Endangered Languages: Saami” (referred to throughout Morén’s post as Sami, and once as Sámi). Among the reasons why we should care is “the uniquely complex grammar of the Sami languages”:

In the words of one of the foremost researchers on these languages, “Sámi phonetics, phonology and morphophonology are amongst the most complicated in Europe if not in the whole world” (Sammallahti 1990:441). This includes what looks like a preference for simple onsets and complex codas, three linguistically significant degrees of consonant duration, quasi-harmonizing “glide vowels”, laryngeal contrasts only in post-stressed medial position, an extensive and pervasive consonant gradation system, productive morphological paradigms including literally hundreds of forms, etc. Each one of these phenomena is interesting and perhaps problematic for some linguistic theories, but taken in concert, they are astoundingly complex and form a perfect testing ground for many theoretical claims. These languages are important sources of unique linguistic data, and they should not be allowed to simply vanish.

Several of the good folks at Tromsø’s CASTL — both permanent members (e.g., Morén and Curt Rice) and past visitors (e.g., Patrik Bye, Dave Odden) — have written about many of these and other delightful complexities of Saami/Sami/Sámi grammar. If you haven’t already, you may be interested in taking a look — you can start, for example, with some of Bye’s work on ROA.

Update, 11/21: this book just announced.

Distributional arguments noch einmal

This is what I get for reading a table of contents announcement on LINGUIST List — specifically, for Journal of Linguistics 43.3 (here’s the link to the actual issue, in case you have access).

I got specifically interested in the Notes and Discussion section, where there are two articles: Dick Hudson‘s “Inherent variability and Minimalism: Comments on Adger’s ‘Combinatorial variability'” and David Adger‘s “Variability and modularity: A response to Hudson”. (Adger’s “Combinatorial Variability” is in JLing 42.3.)

Wait (I hear you say) — this is phonoloblog, not morphosyntactoblog (or whatever). Why am I interested in what Hudson has to say about Adger and vice-versa? Well, some of Hudson’s comments echo something I’ve brought up here a few times before, and the exchange between Hudson and Adger bears directly on some current work in phonology; specifically, some of the work that addresses variation.

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Yoda Minnesota

I missed it on Oct. 7/8, but just caught the replay tonight of Saturday Night Live starring Seth Rogen and featuring Spoon. One of the longest (and funniest) Weekend Update segment with Amy Poehler, Seth Myers, and many others. At one point, Poehler busts out two jokes in a row that both rely on the neutralization between /t/ and /d/ between two vowels, the second of which is unstressed (discussed several times on this blog):

  1. “Anita Hill? I need a vacation.”
    Anita, I need a = [əní:ɾə]
  2. “One of the hottest concert tours in the country now is 14-year-old Miley Cyrus, the star of “Hannah Montana”. While the least popular: Yoda Minnesota.”
    Yoda, Minnesota = [óʊɾə]

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Grade school theory of the syllable?

András Kornai writes with the following interesting query (supplemented here with some text formatting and a Wikipedia link):

My son is in grade school, and he is learning a great deal of terminology about English spelling. For example, a digraph is a letter-combination that regularly corresponds to a single sound, sh, ck, etc. This is pretty standard. A blend is a syllable-final consonant cluster as far as I can make sense of this, welded sounds are a closed set of rhymes (ing, unk, … — there doesn’t seem to be any defining property), bonus letters are the second members of doubled (consonant) graphemes irrespective of whether the sound they represent is long or short, taps have something to do with moras, perhaps.

Google for these terms and you find plenty of school curricula that demand knowledge of these notions, most of them related to something called the “Wilson Reading System“. Is there anything out there that links this terminology to better-established linguistic notions? Has anybody produced an overview (or a critique) of the system from the perspective of contemporary phonology? Any pointers would be greatly appreciated.

If you know anything relevant to this query, please post your comments!

Soft … to the point of silent

I’m still reading this month’s Vanity Fair and came across this:

The Report (pronounced with a soft t, as is Colbert) debuted in the fall of 2005 as a spin-off of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, the critical and popular success that’s often referred to by its host, Jon Stewart, as a “fake news” show.

— from Seth Mnookin’s “The Man in the Irony Mask

I’ve heard/seen “soft” (vs. “hard”) used to refer to different non-silent pronunciations of the letters c (soft [s] vs. hard [k]), g (soft [ʒ] vs. hard [ʤ]), but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of “soft” referring to a completely silent letter in English. If anyone else has, please comment about it below.

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Peer review

A few months ago I mentioned that Kai von Fintel and David Beaver have established a new, peer-reviewed, open access journal (Semantics & Pragmatics), with the hopeful thought that “we [= phono-types] should do this, too”. John McCarthy expressed concern about the amount of work that would be involved in such a venture, and Alan Prince followed up with a question and comment about the value of peer review these days. Ed Keer added that something like phonoloblog “could be expanded to create some collaborative workspace for phonologists” — an idea I like a lot, and something I very much welcome discussion about. Submit your posts/comments!

I gave a quick response to John’s comment, and Kai promised to respond to John’s and Alan’s “skeptical remarks” over on the S&P editors’ blog. In this post Kai quotes Alan’s question and comment and explains why he and David decided to go the peer review route with S&P. Kai addresses the role of peer review in today’s publishing climate, but I don’t think he addresses Alan’s question about the value of peer review. Well, let me rephrase: Kai addresses some of the practical value of peer review (exposure, promotion/tenure, etc.), but Alan’s question seemed to me to be more about whether peer review actually works to improve the product. Alan’s comment — that some of the practical value of peer review might be replaced by more effective means of citation indexing — remains unaddressed. Any thoughts from phonoloblog readers?

A final note: Kai’s post begins by citing an interesting paper about recent, relevant changes in publishing in economics, and I agree with Kai that the observations made in the paper apply (in some modified form) to linguistics as well. One of these observations is that “the necessity of going through the peer-review process has lessened for high status authors: in the old days peer-reviewed journals were by far the most effective means of reaching readers, whereas with the growth of the Internet high-status authors can now post papers online and exploit their reputation to attract readers”. I think that some such effect of status is unavoidable regardless of the peer review question, and I’m interested in how high-status authors can facilitate the recognition of work by lower-status authors (apart from citing it, of course). No doubt Alan is a high-status author, and I think he has done his part to facilitate the recognition of a great deal of work by establishing the first electronic repository in linguistics: the Rutgers Optimality Archive, which “is open to all who wish to disseminate their work in, on, or about OT” — and the success of ROA has motivated others to establish similar linguistics repositories (such as the two that Kai cites in his post, and lingBuzz; see the sidebar for others). Other high-status authors could contribute to the recognition of other work by submitting their own work to these repositories rather than simply posting it on their personal webpages. (If the repositories were just providing webspace, they’d be long dead.)


If you subscribe to the comments rss feed for phonoloblog, then you may have noticed a recent flood of comments. This is because I have just begun categorizing posts to facilitate browsing. Allow me to explain.

Up until now I had only set up one category, “General”, for posts on phonoloblog. I don’t recall why I made that decision way back when; maybe it was because I didn’t want to think about what sorts of categories we might need. But now that we’ve been online for three full years and have about 360 posts of various types, I thought it was time to take this step.

You should be able to see the current category list in the sidebar. In alphabetical order, they are:

  • Books — for book announcements, book reviews, etc.
  • Conferences — for conference/workshop announcements, calls for papers, programs, etc.
  • General — still the grab-bag for most posts
  • Jobs — job announcements, etc. (though this is mostly covered by the phonolojobs page
  • Online — links to material available online (e.g. archives), etc.
  • Papers — links to / discussion of particular papers, etc.
  • Software — links to / discussion of software, etc.

I’m sure I’ll add to these categories as time goes on, but for now I think they’ll do. Contributors, please try to use these categories when you post — you can use multiple categories when appropriate.

So what does this have to do with the flood of comments, you ask? Well, I’ve been going through and manually recategorizing old posts. When there’s a link from one phonoloblog post (post-1) to another (post-2), a surrounding snippet of text from post-1 is posted as a comment on post-2. For some reason, these particular comments are being automatically updated in the manual recategorization process, and so they’re coming up as new comments. My apologies for the barrage.

Batch-convert wav to mp3

I found a way to convert a bunch of wav files to mp3 on Windows. Since it took me a while to find this supposedly simple thing, I though I’d share, and also ask if anybody knows how to do the same on a mac.

First, download the Windows version of LAME. You might already have it if you are using Audacity with mp3 files. The LAME folder has a dll file that Audacity uses, but also an exe file, which gives you a command-line interface.

From the command prompt, go to the LAME directory, and try something like:

FOR %X IN (sounds\\*.wav) DO lame %X

Where “sounds” is the path to the directory that has your sound files in it.

What is this good for? If you want to run a web-based questionnaire with sound files, you will find that browsers treat sound files poorly and inconsistently. The best way I know to improve the situation is to use Sound Manager 2, which puts your files inside a little flash object – but it requires your files to be in mp3 format.


One thing I’ve always found hard about teaching English phonetics is convincing my students that the high front vowel preceding [ŋ] is (lax) [ɪ], not (tense) [i:]. It’s not hard to convince them that there’s no contrast between the two in this context, but no matter how many spectrograms I show them, they’re convinced that the vowel is more like [i:] than it is like [ɪ] — i.e., that bing sounds more like bean than like been. The biggest problem is that I can’t say that I disagree, no matter how many spectrograms have “convinced” me to the contrary.

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Driving home from a friend’s place last night, Karen pointed this out:

This is one of the windows on a “laundramat” in our neighborhood. I guess I’ve gotten used to “laundramat” for “laundromat”, but will I ever get used to “tripble” for “triple” (or even “tripple”)? Although I’ve spilled plenty of ink on the fact that e.g. p and b are nearly identical, I don’t think I will.

Googling for {“tripble”} returns about 550 hits; restricting the search to English-language websites results in 27 hits. The fourth hit of those 27 today is this page on a San Diego food blog, the author of which just happens to have found the same “laundramat” and “tripble” misspellings interesting — scroll down to the very bottom of the page. (I also recommend the comment on the picture just above that … something I often think about myself while driving around America’s Finest City.)

How do you 'fix' an illegal cluster? (and why?)

I’ve been reading a lot about the ‘psychological reality’ of phonotactic constraints lately.   Something that’s puzzling me is the diversity of on-line repair strategies for constraint violations.  In particular, for phontactically illegal clusters, sometimes epenthesis is observed (e.g., Japanese listeners perceive ebzo as ebuzo; Dupoux and colleagues), and other times consonants are altered (e.g., /dl/->/gl/ for French speakers; Halle and colleagues).

My question is why such diversity is observed–that is, what triggers the different repair strategies.  N.B. I’m not expecting a single strategy to be used; I will place my hand on the good book (P&S 1993) and swear an oath to “homogeneity of target, heterogeneity of process.”

In a recent paper, Kabak + Idsardi argued that perceptual epenthesis is driven by syllable structure constraints, not by consonantal contact.  So, for a cluster C1C2, it is the ill-formedness of C1 in coda that drives epenthesis, not the contact of C1.C2.  In fact, they argue (based on confusion data) that no epenthesis occurs when there’s simply a syllable contact violation (*C1.C2).
This accounts for their data as well as the Dupoux et al. results; however in many other cases a “contact” violation does trigger ‘epenthesis.’  In production, Lisa Davidson’s shown that onset clusters violating English phonotactic constraints are repaired not by changing the consonants but by altering the temporal relationship of the gestures (not true epenthesis, which is why I used the scare quotes above).  Perhaps more directly comparable to K+I, Berent et al. have shown perceptual epenthesis (i.e., confusions between lbif and lebif).

And of course epenthesis is not the only way to fix clusters.  Lots of other studies have shown perceptual confusions between featurally similar clusters (e.g., */dl/-/gl/)–e.g., Moreton in English.

Any thoughts on this? What’s driving the heterogeneity of processes?

We need to do this, too

At SALT this weekend, David Beaver and Kai von Fintel announced a new journal that they will be editing, Semantics & Pragmatics. This announcement was followed by a more public announcement on Kai’s semantics, etc. blog, where Kai summarizes the motivation for the new journal as follows:

Our journal will be a high-quality, rigorously peer-reviewed journal on topics in semantics and pragmatics. Why a new journal (given that the field already has three excellent dedicated journals: Linguistics & Philosophy, Natural Language Semantics, Journal of Semantics)? Our journal will be an open access journal, with no subscription barriers, and it will make optimal use of modern electronic distribution and management methods.

Follow the links to the slides that David and Kai presented at SALT and to the editors’ blog for this new journal. It’s a great idea, and I think we can and should do something similar for phonology and phonetics for all the same reasons that David and Kai are doing this for semantics and pragmatics.


With classes over I got around to upgrading my software last week and was pleasantly surprised by a couple of things that may interest other phonolobloggers:

a) Times New Roman, as packaged with Microsoft Office 2007, now comes with most (if not all?) Unicode phonetic symbols, and (still) allows diacritic stacking. I’ve tried converting a few papers from various Unicode fonts (esp. SIL ones like Charis and Doulos) into Times, and so far so good. Times is über-ubiquitous (journals; academia, business, government, etc. ), so this is good news for working phonologists, and long overdue! (Ironically, Microsoft has replaced Times New Roman with Calibri (stress, anyone?), as the default font in Office 2007; the new guard is sans-serif but also sans-IPA.)

b) I draw a lot in Word (feature geometry, prosodic structure), so I’m happy that lines and curves now stay where you draw them, and line movement is fully gradient (pace phonology).

c) Windows Vista has a snipping tool (under Accessories) that lets you capture (and edit) anything on the screen which makes it even easier to copy spectrograms from Praat or data sets or tableaux from articles into class handouts, etc. 

Did you mean: brick block brick

Breaking news (to me): blick is an actual word of English.

Yup, I fully admit it. Until very recently, I never actually picked up a single dictionary and checked to see whether blick was in it. I just recall the feeling of my own first exposure1 to the example as being so effective that it never even occurred to me to double-check it. But now I see that has a definition, as does the OED (if you have access). Prolly others, too, but why keep checking?

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What ever happened to the phoneme? (or Bring Back Baudouin!)

The phoneme can be roughly defined as a minimal unit of sound that can be used to distinguish words in a language. The question of how to theoretically define the phoneme dominated linguistics from the late 19th century until about 1960. In 1959, Morris Halle first published his famous argument against the “classical phoneme” in his monograph The Sound Pattern of Russian. Halle and Chomsky reiterated that argument in The Sound Pattern of English, which had been widely circulated in the 1960s in various manuscript forms before it was published in 1968. The argument, now familiar to most linguists, had to do with an asymmetry in the Russian phoneme inventory. Halle had noticed that Russian regressive voice assimilation produced both phonemic and allophonic outputs. That is, it could produce a phonemic output /z/ from an underlying /s/ or an allophonic variant [ɣ] from an underlying /x/. If one were to posit a significant level of classical phonemic representation in a phonological derivation, then it would be necessary to apply regressive assimilation twice–above and below the level of phonemic representation. Hence, classical phonemic representation had to be ruled out as a significant level of phonological representation. This argument basically signaled the death of the phoneme in early generative phonological theory. As a consequence, the input to phonological derivations became the level of systematic phonemics, which captured generalizations about morphophonological alternations, a considerably more abstract level of representation than in classical phonemic theories.

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Final Devoicing in Russian-Americans

Hello, I’ve just seen it yet again (“it” = the phenomenon I’m about to describe) and I am intrigued enough to use the Phonoloblog to solicit other phonologists’ views.

Russian is claimed in the research literature to have Final Devoicing; i.e. all obstruents are realized as voiceless in word-final position, irrespective of whether they are underlyingly voiced or voiceless. Yet, when I elicit these forms from Russian speakers I’ve met (usually, students in my classes), I get either partially devoiced or even fully voiced forms – certainly not neutralization of /b/ with /p/, /d/ with /t/, etc.

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Are we flat?

The University of Maryland’s Linguistics Department continues its strange love-hate relationship with phonology with this year’s announcement for what has come to be known simply as “MayFest“. In case you’ve never heard of this (almost-)annual workshop, the first sentence of the announcement clarifies:

Every year the graduate students of the Linguistics Department of the University of Maryland organize a linguistics workshop focusing on a different aspect of language.

The rest of the first paragraph explains the title of this year’s workshop: “Where, When and Why is Hierarchy Needed?”

The goal of this year’s MayFest is to bring together researchers from various disciplines to discuss the use of hierarchy and flat structures in language.

Where do phonologists these days stand on this issue? Are debates about the internal structure of the syllable actually resolved? What about Liberman & Prince’s original hierarchical foot structure proposal — was that abandoned for good reasons? It’s true that discussions in phonology don’t (or no longer) focus on these issues, but I don’t think they’re any less important than they are in syntax and semantics. Continue reading

To OT or not to OT

(OK, this is not, strictly speaking, a phonology-related post. But it’s about Optimality Theory, which is mostly about phonology, and the Language Log post that I discuss here was not, strictly speaking, a language-related post either. So there.)

As the resident Optimality Theorist over at Language Log (or as some folks these days apparently like to say, “optimologist”, as they chuckle to themselves), I feel the need to point out that Bill Poser’s parody-post on different date formats doesn’t even resemble an OT analysis.

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Please cover my welcome

According to the “lang/ling blogs and fun stuff” page of the excellent University of Aberdeen web resources for linguistics site, phonoloblogclaims to cover ‘all things phonology'” (emphasis added). What I actually intend the ‘all things phonology’ subtitle to mean is that all things related to phonology are welcome on phonoloblog; I’d never pretend to actually cover all those things, even with the help of the many other phonolotypes who have at one time or another posted here.

(And in case it’s not clear enough already: anyone interested in posting here can do so; you just have to let me know that you’re interested, and your posts need to be phonology-related in some way. Who knows, maybe if more folks posted here, the cover-claim could keep better pace with welcome-claim.)

On teaching phonology without the phoneme

I find the juxtaposition of the opening and closing sentences of Rick Wojcik’s comment on Bruce Hayes’ post about teaching allophony remarkable:

How can you possibly teach an introduction to linguistics without teaching the basic concept of the phoneme? […] Let them puzzle over those questions, not some dry lecture on distinctive features.

Bruce’s post asks a sincere question, and the causticness of Wojcik‘s comment, clear enough just from the two sentences quoted above, seems unwarranted as a response (to say the least).

First: I don’t appreciate the presuppositions snuck in by the “basic concept of” and “dry lecture on” — in my experience as an undergraduate, the noun phrases modified by these words could well be switched: “How can you possibly teach an introduction to linguistics without teaching the basic concept of distinctive features? […] Let them puzzle over those questions, not some dry lecture on the phoneme.”

Second: as if “the phoneme” and “distinctive features” were the only two options on the table! There are plenty of other phonologically-relevant topics that can be presented as a unit in an introductory linguistics course in such a way that deep and important issues in the field are conveyed in an accessible manner to students whose exposure to linguistics before that course (or ever again) is close to zero.

Below the fold, I take apart the middle part of Wojcik’s comment, breaking it into bite-sized chunks in order to either question the relevance of the phoneme to that chunk, or to point out the relevance of at least one topic other than the phoneme (or distinctive features, for that matter) that I think would make a fabulous phonology unit in an introductory linguistics course.

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Mutually-assured destruction

Teaching both undergraduate and graduate phonology courses this quarter, and having just finished some revisions to a paper on opacity (ROA, lingBuzz; to appear in Phonology), I’ve had different types of rule interactions — in particular, ones that result in opacity — on the brain. In the paper, I describe several types of opaque-seeming rule interactions in detail and give them names like “self-destructive feeding”. Now here’s a new one that’s not discussed in the paper because I don’t think there are any attested examples of it. Still, it’s an interesting type of case that I think is worth discussing. For reasons that’ll become clear as/if you read on below, I call it mutually-assured destruction.

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More on a vs. an

After my post about using an when an immediately following parenthetical begins with a consonant (but the first word after the parenthetical begins with a vowel), I felt the need to get some Google counts. What follows are the stats for strings of the form “a/an to me (at least/anyway) X”.

The finding is that Julian Barnes is not alone: there are a lot of people out there writing things like an–to me–unknown singer.

I wonder about the converse: a–obviously–preposterous idea. I easily found an example, “a (obviously refurbished) replacement unit”, but didn’t investigate systematically (and it seems there are a lot of people typing things like “displayed with a obviously wrong pixel ratio”, so we need to control for baseline use of a before vowels).

Tables and graphs come after the jump…

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Prescient 'an'

Page 57 of the Dec. 25, 2006/Jan. 1, 2007 New Yorker, in a piece by Julian Barnes called “The past conditional“:

In the car on the way back to London, we had an–to me–even more peculiar exchange about my niece and her boyfriend.

Two theories:

  1. For Julian Barnes or an editor, a/an allomorph choice can skip over a parenthetical.
  2. It’s just an error; Barnes and editors would have changed it if they’d noticed it. Maybe Barnes wrote an even more peculiar exchange and inserted to me later, neglecting to change an to a.

Still, it makes me wonder. Are there English speakers for whom the choice between a and an can (or must??) ignore, in some circumstances, what immediately follows? If so, what are the syntactic or prosodic conditions?

And if not–if all English speakers would consider the above example to be an error–how common are speech errors in which the choice between a and an gets locked in before the speaker decides to insert some more material? Does the error’s frequency vary as a function of syntax or prosody? I pose these as serious questions: maybe someone has looked at this, if not for a/an then maybe for a similar case.

What do you think of a/an before um and other hesitations? I can’t decide what I think about these (imagine the following as fairly fluent utterances):

  • It’s a(n), um, strong argument.
  • It’s a(n), um, uneven surface.

(I can imagine at least three possibilities: always use a before um; always use an before um; always act as though the um weren’t there, assuming you’ve already got the next word lined up in your speech plan.)

Should allophones be taught in intro linguistics?

Hello, I just finished teaching UCLA’s “Introduction to Linguistics” course.  This is ten weeks of syntax, morphology, semantics, phonetics, phonology, and historical, and since there are so many topics it all goes by pretty fast.

In the phonology section, I have been dutifully teaching the classical phoneme and how to discover it (that is to say, the collection of minimal pairs and collation of complementary environments for similar sounds).  I would imagine that this is the practice in many other intro courses.

What occurred to me while I was teaching this was that phonemic analysis might better be postponed to a later course such as (at UCLA) “Introduction to Phonology”.  The alternative that I have in mind would be to let the phonology section of Intro Linguistics focus exclusively on phonological alternations and neutralizing rules. 

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More on Pinochet

[ Note to regular phonoloblog readers: this is a follow-up on my last Language Log post, on the Chilean Spanish pronunciation of Pinochet. ]

Here is a key for redirected Language Log readers who may not be familiar with phonetic terms and transcriptions. The phonetic value of any other symbols used below should be transparent. (IPA = International Phonetic Alphabet, APA = [North] American[ist] Phonetic Alphabet):

  • The sound that is usually represented orthographically by “ch” in English (as in e.g. chain) is a voiceless postalveolar affricate and is represented as either [ʧ] (IPA) or [č] (APA).
  • The sound that is usually represented orthographically by “sh” in English (as in e.g. shame) is a voiceless postalveolar fricative and is represented as either [ʃ] (IPA) or [š] (APA).
  • The sound that has no single usual orthographic representation in English but is sometimes represented as “zh” (as in e.g. measure) is a voiced postalveolar fricative and is represented as either [ʒ] (IPA) or [ž] (APA).

To double-check my claims about different American Spanish varieties, I first consulted the superb book by D. Lincoln Canfield pictured and on the right. According to the book description, “[t]his book represents the culmination of a lifetime of research in the spoken Spanish dialects of the Americas by one of the foremost experts in this field.” Indeed. Canfield makes the useful organizational decision to devote a separate chapter to the discussion of pronunciation patterns found in each country on the continent (including the U.S.), though he is clear about the fact that differences between varieties of a language do not necessarily respect national boundaries (pp. 20-21). Each chapter includes a map (in some cases, multiple maps) highlighting certain key (geographically-definable) pronunciation patterns. It’s an amazing piece of work, mercifully short (130pp.), and at $14 from, a real steal. (Makes a great gift, too!)

But: this book was published a full generation ago (1981), so it’s getting a little out of date. To supplement this, then, I also consulted the two books pictured and below the fold.

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Grounding the iambic/trochaic law

Trochees tend to be even, iambs are usually uneven. Since Hayes (1985) it is believed that this distinction has a basis in an extralinguistic principle of rhythmic grouping:

  • Elements contrasting in intensity naturally form groupings with initial
  • Elements contrasting in duration naturally form groupings with final

It is believed that this ‘iambic/trochaic law’ reflects a universal cognitive tendency. But new research in musical theory seems to put this into question: adherence to the iambic/trochaic law seems to be partly dependent on the native language of the speaker. A group of researcher led by Aniruddh Patel found that speakers of (American) English conformed to the Iambic/Trochaic Law, but speakers of Japanese do not (see this summary in New Scientist). They argue that this difference in judgement is based on a difference in the syntactic structures of the languages in question, and in consequence that musical (rhythmic) perception is based at least partly on grammar. I suppose this puts into question the argument on the ‘groundedness’ of the iambic trochaic law.

Do speech errors feed phonology?

Earlier today, Geoff Pullum wrote a short post on Language Log about speech errors, based on the following example:

you’re a kind man [knd mæn]
you’re a canned mine [kænd mn]

Geoff concludes his post as follows:

The details of such errors have often been used by phonologists as evidence for phonological structure. After all, if you can accidentally switch the nuclei of two adjacent syllables when you’re very tired, one obvious explanation would be that phonology is not a kind of fiction made up in the process of doing linguistic analysis; rather, there really are syllables, they really have nuclei, and your speech production mechanisms actually operate in a way that, in effect, makes reference to these units.

This made me think about how little I actually know about speech errors and the evidence they provide for phonological structure, apart from the tidbits I discuss in introductory courses (the source of most if not all of these probably being Vicki Fromkin‘s work). Continue reading

What would 'recursion' mean in phonology?

That’s the title of Bob Ladd‘s talk at the Recursion in Human Languages conference, organized by Dan Everett and scheduled to take place in Illinois in late April 2007. (See the full program here; Bob’s talk, scheduled last on Saturday afternoon, is one of only two talks that seem to specifically address phonology.)

I’m glad that a phonetician/phonologist of Bob’s stature and respectability was invited to this conference. I also like the title of his talk (although this may just be the topic of the talk, not the actual title, according to the call for papers — but I hope Bob keeps it).

I’d like to throw this question out to phonologists (those who read phonoloblog, anyway). What do you think ‘recursion’ would mean in phonology? Maybe if we get some good discussion going, we can forward it on to Bob (or invite him to join in on the conversation). Leave your comment below, or if it’s something extensive, consider writing a separate post. (If you’re not already a phonoloblog author, all you have to do is ask me.)

Glottal stops and codas update

Mark Donohue has posted a summary of responses to his original LINGUIST List query on glottal stops and codas (cross-posted here).

Mark adds via e-mail (paragraphs are from two separate messages):

I’m pretty sure some of the New Guinea data I’m looking at shows segmental nasals ONLY appearing in coda positions, phonologically, though due to nasal spreading from nasal vowels they are heard in onsets as well, if there’s no other recourse.

To elaborate briefly on the nasals: in Damal there are three phonetic nasals, predictably [m], [n] and [ŋ]. [ŋ] only ever appears as a coda; [m] and [n] do their best to appear in coda positions always (including VNV sequences), but can be found in onsets if they have to be (#NV# sequences are found), but there’s strong evidence that these are underlying /D/ + nasalised vowel).

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Assimilatory /r/ insertion

In an earlier post (7/20/2006), I asked for examples of liquid dissimilation in English, such as omitting /r/ in the(r)mometer, Feb(r)uary, su(r)prise, etc.

There also seem to be cases where an /r/ is inserted into words that already contain an /r/. Some examples I’ve heard or had reported to me include:

  1. farmiliar
  2. contractural
  3. ardurous (the OED gives this as a ‘poetic variant’)
  4. verneer (would you trust this dentist?)
  5. fruneral (African American English)
  6. borogroves (this has entered the epigraphic record, conveniently for future philologists)
  7. perservere
  8. sherbert
  9. phertographer
  10. catergorize
  11. lavartory
  12. Kervorkian
  13. intergral
  14. perjorative

There are also historical examples like cartridge from cartouche, and treasury from thesauria.
This process is interesting because it is the reverse of long-distance dissimilatory loss of /r/. The existence of such a reverse process is predicted by Ohala’s theory that dissimilation results from hypercorrection on the part of the listener. According to this theory, the long-domain acoustic cues of /r/ can cause the listener to be uncertain whether there is one source of rhoticity in the word or two. Errors are possible in either direction.

Has anyone noticed other cases of this?

Vowel harmony at Starbucks?

Here’s an informal and amusing observation about something I keep noticing at Starbucks. I’m a fan of the Venti (= large) Latte. Whenever I order a [vɛnti lɑteɪ], it seems that nine times out of ten, the barista repeats it back to me as [vɛnt lɑteɪ]. And this is from different baristas at many different locations around northern California. Interestingly, I’ve yet to hear anyone say *[vɛnti lɑti]. I don’t usually go for the chocolate espresso, but my hunch is that if I were to order a [vɛnti mokə], the barista would probably repeat it faithfully as [vɛnti mokə], as opposed to *[vɛnt mokə] or, even less likely, *[vɛntə mokə].

Nasometer help

[ Via LINGUIST List ]

Dear Linguists,

I am messaging to see if anyone has had any experience with the Nasometer (Speech Tutor System (Product Code: S/T-S1A)) manufactured and marketed by Glottal Enterprises. I am interested in knowing the following:

1. Is the system reliable for nasalance measurements?

2. Are there any particular faults/characteristics one should be aware of before buying the system?

3. Is the system sturdy enough to be used for field work?


Karthik Durvasula

Identity within the rhyme

[ Via LINGUIST List ]

In Mamainde, a Northern Nambiquara language of Brazil, a coronal (or ‘default’) coda will always get its place features from the nucleus, even when feature sharing with the following onset would be expected. Nasal codas also share the oral/nasal feature of the nucleus, (often producing oral/nasal contour segments, or pre-oralized nasals).

This raises the slight possibility that these various and seemingly independent instances of feature sharing between nucleus and coda might be linked by the effects of a broader tendency for identicalness within the Rhyme.

I am curious as to whether such a tendency has ever been documented in other languages? Is anyone familiar with any languages where an assimilation rule MUST reference the rhyme (not just the syllable or VC adjacency)?

I am particularly interested in any possible markedness constraint, or other broad phonological motivation, which pertains specifically to the rhyme – holding between the nucleus and the coda, requiring them to be identical in certain ways or share certain features in the output.

A summary of responses will be posted.

Dave Eberhard
S.I.L. field linguist

How many consonants?

I was thinking about how many distinct types of consonants there are and came up with a back-of-the-envelope figure of 300. The IPA has about 130 different consonant symbols and then there are some other diacritics and length to factor in, so I guess about 300. Of course that’s assuming that the IPA symbols line up with the actual diversty of consonants.

Has anyone tried a more rigorous quantification?

Glottal stops and codas

A query from Mark Donohue, via LINGUIST List:

Dear all,

Glottal stops in north Australian languages are phonotactically constrained to only appear in codas; some languages of adjacent Indonesia with glottal stops either show restrictions on their position (Sawu/Hawu: glottal stops cannot begin words) or evidence for repositioning (Palu’e: glottal stops cannot begin a word, and vowels preceding a medial glottal stop show closed-syllable allophones.

Does anyone know of anything addressing the position in which glottal stops may appear? I’m not talking about initial epenthetic glottal stops in languages such as Tagalog, but underlying segments that appear to disfavour onset realisations.

-Mark Donohue
Monash University

What a difference some static makes

Just in case you haven’t been following it, there’s an interesting thread developing on Language Log about the issue of whether Neil Armstrong said “one small step for man” or “one small step for a man”, complete with waveforms and spectrograms and other things of phonolo-interest.

  1. One
    small step backwards
  2. One
    75-millisecond step before a “man”
  3. Armstrong’s abbreviated article: the smoking gun?
  4. Armstrong’s abbreviated article: notes from the expert
  5. First
    Korean on the moon!
  6. What
    Neil Armstrong said
  7. Armstrong’s abbreviated article: Peter Shann Ford responds

Possible and probable languages

This new book (just announced on LINGUIST List) is not about phonology (at least I don’t think it is, given who wrote it and from what I can tell from the blurb). But I think it’s of particular relevance to (present-day) phonologists.

(I’m hoping that my semi-random thoughts on this below will generate some discussion here, especially if someone (else) decides to read the book.)

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Where to put useful stuff: a call for help

As you all know, Marc van Oostendorp has been posting several useful links lately: first a link to Toshi Shiraishi’s recent Groningen dissertation on Nivkh phonology, then one to Tobias Sheer’s bibliographic web-library of papers on the phonology/morphosyntax interface, then one to the ConstraintCatalogue developed by Marc, Curt Rice, and Nathan Sanders, and most recently one to Julien Eychenne’s WYSIWYG tableau editor for LaTeX.

This is an interesting mix of useful stuff that I don’t think I would have heard about anywhere else. Shiraishi’s dissertation was (somewhat later) announced on LINGUIST List, but that’s about it — although LINGUIST List is a great resource, probably even in ways I haven’t taken advantage of yet, it’s not the place I imagine I’m going to (easily) find this kind of collection of useful stuff. (If you disagree, please comment!)

One good reason why a “one-stop shop” of resources like these would be useful to have was made clear in the comments on Marc’s most recent post: there are at least two other LaTeX tableau editors out there — the latter developed almost 10 years ago. If I were about to (decide to) embark on a programming project like this, I think I’d find it useful to know whether I was about to reinvent the wheel so that I don’t waste too much of my time.

So what should this one-stop shop be?

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Ceci n’est pas phonoblog

Lots of folks think this blog is called phonoblog instead of phonoloblog, which was enough of a problem that I made the URL automatically redirect to (I won’t do the same with; that costs money. A paltry sum, sure, but I have to draw the line somewhere.)

Just to be clear: this is not phonoblog. This is. (Thanks to David Beaver for the link.)

The problem with "the dictionary" as arbiter

I missed the Weekend Edition Sunday Puzzle last week, but (as usual) the answer to last week’s challenge was broadcast this week. Here‘s what the challenge was:

In most words containing the letter “O” between two consonants, the O is either pronounced as a long O or a short O. Can you name a common word in which O appears between two consonants and the O is pronounced like a short “i”?

The answer is not surprising, but I’m a little annoyed by the reasoning used to justify the claim that the answer is unique.

Answer: Women (Words such as cinnamon, pivot, parrot, ribbon, common, havoc and cotton are what the dictionary calls “schwas” or words with an unstressed vowel sound. Therefore the only correct answer is “women.”)

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Survey: Important results in phonology

What do you think are the most important results in phonology? What have we learned and why is it important?

I spend a lot of time with non-academics and so I’m often pressed to explain what phonology is and why anyone should care. Beyond, “all knowledge is interesting” and vague statements about cognition or computer applications I sometimes have a hard time figuring out what to say. What are your thoughts?

Truncated berries

My wife Karen talks funny, and it’s often of more than passing linguistic interest. Most recently, she has taken to calling different berries by the following truncated names:

  • blueberries [blu:bɛɹi:z] → bluebs [blu:bz]
  • strawberries [stɹɔ:bɛɹi:z] → strawbs [stɹɔ:bz]
  • raspberries [ɹæspbɛɹi:z] or [ɹæzbɛɹi:z] → raspbs [ɹæspəbz]

It’s the last one that interested me the most, so I asked Karen how she’d handle boysenberries [bɔɪzənbɛɹi:z]. She thought about it, at first said [bɔɪzənbz] and decided that couldn’t be right, then settled on [bɔɪzənɪbz].

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Some thoughts on length

Here’s just some thoughts I’ve been mulling over on representing segment length. I’d love to get feedback. I’m a bit rusty since I haven’t really thought hard about phonology for a couple of years.

It seems that representational theories of segment length (two-root theory or moraic theory) are pretty good at addressing some basic properties of long segments. For example, in some cases length is preserved (compensatory lengthening) when the segment degeminates. That fact makes sense if the length is represented as double linking to a timing slot and degemination is simply unlinking to the extra slot, leaving it free to relink somewhere more hospitable.

But, an interesting issue with both two-root theory and moraic theory is that length really seems to be a binary distinction. Continue reading

Phonetics in grammar

New discussion initiated on LINGUIST List by Heriberto Avelino:

Recently, I was part of a discussion regarding an issue that I thought was uncontroversial. However, it seems that this is not as straightforward as I first thought. The debate is about the place of phonetics in the study of ‘grammar’. More precisely, whether the study of sound patterns using phonetic methodologies and techniques falls within the broad scope of the term ‘grammar’.

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Embedded sound files

This LINGUIST List post reminds me of two of the very first posts on phonoloblog two years ago (here and here).

Which reminds me — it’s almost phonoloblog‘s second birthday!

Dear Colleagues,

Often the nature of a speech phenomenon can be communicated so much better
with the use of an example. Does anybody know of journals in linguistics
(or subfields of) that offer the option to embed sound files in the
electronic (pdf or html) version of papers?

I’ll post a summary.


Bert Remijsen

More opaque feeding

(This is kind of a follow-up on this post from last year.)

Speaking of McCarthy’s GLOW talk (related handout here): I got interested in an example of feeding discussed there. Ignoring melodic details, the two rules are:

Vowel Epenthesis: Ø –> V / #__CC
Consonant Epenthesis: Ø –> C / #__V

Interestingly, the generalization expressed by Vowel Epenthesis is rendered non-surface-apparent (opaque) by Consonant Epenthesis: the consonant cluster is no longer word-initial. In other words, Vowel Epenthesis appears to overapply. This is another example of an opaque feeding interaction, except in this case the right interaction is easily statable in OT (which is particularly interesting given that non-surface-apparent opacity is generally problematic for OT).

Is there some other way to state the rules that avoids this opaque feeding interaction? I can think of three basic alternatives. Continue reading

After months of debate (with myself) over whether it was worthwhile, I’ve finally decided to go ahead and secure the domain name for phonoloblog. I decided not to pay the extra $$ for the Big Three package (as Language Log did, with .org, .com, and .net), and even though there are plenty folks out there who have mistaken us for “phonoblog“, I also decided not to pay extra $$ for that variant.

For now, visiting will just redirect to, with this change reflected in the address bar of your browser. Eventually I’ll work out how best to work out the virtual paths given the particular set-up I have.

fas pt. 2

Last week I wrote about a segment on Foreign Accent Syndrome I saw on ABC Primetime, hoping to make two general points: one, about why the word “foreign” has come to be used as a label for the condition, and two, whether the condition relates to motor control or linguistic knowledge. This post is intended partly as an update concerning the above second point. I’ve also been contacted by a reader whose cousin is an FAS patient, and the details she provides of his case can certainly enrich the discussion. Continue reading

"foreign" accent syndrome

OK, I just finished watching a segment on ABC Primetime about Foreign Accent Syndrome, a condition I’d heard of, but until now I hadn’t had the opportunity to hear speakers with it. Anecdotal evidence of FAS usually identifies an adult English speaker suddenly (usually following trauma) adopting a foreign accent, and being unable to speak using his or her natural accent. Interestingly, these patients are sometimes characterized as sounding like particular foreign accents or other English dialects. The textbook case is of a woman in England who suddenly sounded German after a head injury during the blitz. The two patients on the ABC segment were associated as sounding Russian in one case and French in another. Hopefully this link will work.

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Last night Jon Stewart cracked a Cheney-heart-condition-joke with “defibulators” as the punch line. Now I’m not one to judge, but I had to point it out. Despite the 29K ghits that “defibulator” gets, and the 12K ghits that “defibulators” gets, Google still asks you if you mean “defibrillator(s)”. Oxford lists defibrillator under defibrillation.

There’s a parallel here with vascillations like nuclear/nucular and parap[a]legic, discussed a while back by Arnold Zwicky on Language Log and Eric Bakovic on phonoloblog. Continue reading

Harsh consonants

David Pogue, Technology/Circuits columnist for The New York Times, has a review of the new Apple laptop with the Intel Core Duo chip, called the MacBook Pro. Apple’s high-end laptop line has for a long time now been known as PowerBook, and Pogue has this to say about the “inexplicable” name change:

Why do Mac fans despise the new name so much? Partly because all those harsh consonants — K, K, P — make the name uglier and harder to say.

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continuing phonetics-phonology discussion

I’m adding this post in light of Eric’s plea regarding comments and posts – many comments on recent posts in phonoloblog have been quite involved, enough for Eric to suggest that contributors make new posts instead of long comments. Marc and Travis have taken this advice, but (so far) I have not – I added a long comment to Marc’s post regarding Port & Leary’s Language article, only because it directly follows up on comments from both Port and Leary.

To make up for it, I’ve made this post just to alert readers that comment threads are continuing in some of these recent phonoloblog posts.

Labov on NPR

In case you missed it on Language Log:

Robert Siegel interviewed Bill Labov on All Things Considered, 2/16/2006: “American Accent Undergoing Great Vowel Shift“. Siegel is an intelligent and skillful interviewer, and Bill gives a terrific performance. Listen to it!

Yeah, do that.

P.S. Why do radio stories on language variation always have to play the “you say [tʰəmeɪɾoʊ], I say [tʰəmɑ:ɾoʊ]” song???

"Lexical listing" and hybrid approaches

I appreciate the critical analysis that Adam Ussishkin and Natasha Warner make of my posting, A Leap of Faith? Their proposed typology of research questions is an explicit and detailed follow-up that clarifies many issues that my original posting had only left implicit. Regarding the questionable relationship among Steps 3, 4, and 5, I believe that I had already acknowledged, in response to ACW’s initial comment, that to make such a leap is indeed an unwarranted oversimplification.
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On the vagaries of the market and the field

In their interesting (and well-worth reading) comment on Travis Bradley’s “A leap of faith?” post, Adam Ussishkin and Natasha Warner express the following suspicion (emphasis added):

There exist a fair number of papers where people have done an interesting experiment, discussed the interesting implications of the finding, and then added a theoretical discussion involving constraints and tableaux in order to make it a phonology paper. We suspect that this sometimes occurs purely in the interests of the job market. […]

There also exist papers of a different sort, where the writer has a formal phonological analysis of some formal phonological question. They then add a small amount of experimental data or cite someone else’s experimental data (possibly overgeneralizing from it), in order to have the formal theory backed up by phonetic experimental evidence. This is formal phonology with an overlay of phonetic data, and it may also occur in the interests of the job market sometimes.

Let me say up front that I tend to agree with this suspicion, so long as the crucial “sometimes” is not left out. Adam and Natasha don’t specifically comment on what it is about (being on) the job market in particular that invites this sort of hybrid work, but the implication is clear enough: the job candidate either feels or is made to feel that they must appeal to experimental folks on the one hand and theoretical folks on the other. This way, there’s something for everyone. Right?

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Comments vs. posts

I’m thrilled about the discussion generated by recent phonoloblog posts by Travis Bradley and Marc van Oostendorp. For those phonoloblog readers who may be reading this blog in the “traditional” way, simply checking every so often for new posts: comments on particular posts are not as obvious as they could be from the main page — especially new comments on older posts — so you may be missing some interesting discussion.

I suggest two things to remedy this. Continue reading

A leap of faith?

Back in October 2005, there was a discussion about the anti-OT bias of some derivational phonologists. In his book manuscript, Andrea Calabrese had alleged that “magical thinking” is especially common among those OT practitioners who would “attempt to provide a synchronic explanation to all aspects of the phonology of a language.” It was pointed out in the discussion that the magical thinking actually dates back to SPE and is still present to some degree in Calabrese’s own work.
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The jug trade

Whenever I’ve taught phonetics, I’ve been mildly uncomfortable about the fact that many if not most of the phonetics texts that I have to consult, even ones with a decided focus on English and relatively narrow transcriptions, don’t really note that /tr/ and /dr/ clusters are pronounced with an initial affricate of some sort (as opposed to a stop, that is). When I have seen some mention of this, the voiceless cluster is transcribed as [ʧr] and (more narrowly?) as [ʈʂɹ].

It’s such an easily observable phenomenon, and a student or two typically asks me about it before I have a chance to mention it in class myself. A wee small bit of the research on this phenomenon can be found with a quick web search (which I cite below the fold — if you know of more, please comment). Some of this research is concerned more specifically with the “retracted /s/” in /str/ clusters observed in some varieties of American English.

Unfortunately, there’s no standard way to test whether there’s an underlying /tr/~/ʧr/ contrast (or /d/~/ʤ/, in the voiced case) that is (nearly-)neutralized by this affrication. But President Bush committed a wonderful speech error in his State of the Union address earlier this evening that must say something about either the perception or the implementation (or both) of these clusters.

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For some reason I’ve been giving some thought to this brief report that, come Fall, the struggling television networks UPN (owned by CBS) and the WB (owned by Warner Bros., natch) will merge to form a new network “whose name, CW, is meant to be a combination of CBS and Warner”. Is it just me, or does “CW” (or “the CW”, like “the WB” is more widely known) just sound like a stupid name for a television network?

I ended up discussing this last night with a non-linguist friend, who shares my intuition, and we entertained the following hypotheses about why this new network name doesn’t work for us. Continue reading

Peter Ladefoged

It’s a sad day for the entire profession. As soon as I find an obituary, I’ll post. Done — see below. In the meantime, here are a few pages noting Peter’s passing this week at the age of 80.

You may also be interested in reading about Ladefoged’s career in his own words (.pdf), which appears to have been written sometime within the last few years.

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Whistled languages: phonology and Unesco

The most recent issue of Phonology (22.2) contains an article by Annie Rialland about the phonetics and phonology of a number of so-called ‘whistled languages’ (Rialland’s website has a prefinal version as a pdf).

In some sense, whistled languages use the phonology of a spoken language, such as Spanish in the case of the most well-known instance of this type of language, Silbo Gomero from one of the Canary Islands, La Gomera. Yet they implement this phonology in a radically different way — by whistling rather than moving organs in the vocal tract. Since this special type articulatory phonetics is more limited than the usual one, this in turn influences the phonology somewhat. All of this can be found in Rialland’s fascinating article.

The topic of whistled languages is also very suitable for explaining some basic principles of the phonetics-phonology interface. When I needed to write something for a Dutch popular science website for adolescents, I therefore took Rialland’s article as my basis. Spanish has a five vowel system, and Rialland shows that these vowels can be distinguished on the basis of F2 alone; it is the F2 which is whistled in Silbo Gomero. This fact can be used as a handle to explain what formants are, and what a vowel system is; here is the article I wrote (in Dutch, obviously).

I notified Rialland of the fact that I published this piece, and here is what she answered:

This paper will also serve an unexpected function for you: the Government of the Canary Islands is currently trying to get a recognition of Silbo (and also other whistled languages) as a patrimony of humanity by UNESCO. All of the papers in scientific journals (of any age) will help.

Explaining phonology to young people can have unexpected political consequences.

It's a long way from Boston to New York

Here’s an interesting article in today’s NYT about NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s apparent shift from his native Boston accent (more evident when he was first elected in 2002) to one that is more characteristic of New York (more evident now). A number of American English dialect experts, including sociolinguist Bill Labov and dialect coach Paul Meier, were recruited to analyze and compare Bloomberg’s 2002 inauguration speech with his 2006 inauguration speech. (If you look along the left-hand side of the article online, you’ll see a multimedia audio link, with commentary by the article’s author Sam Roberts and the two inauguration speeches.)

The article’s focus — and perhaps the focus of the analyses by these various experts — is on three aspects of pronunciation:

  1. the vowel in words like last: more central/back in Boston ([a/ɑ]), more front in New York ([æ]);

  2. the vowel in words like lost: more central/unrounded in Boston (“ah”/[a]), more back/rounded in New York (“aw”/[ɔ]);

  3. the unstressed vowel in words like father: the r-less variant is apparently less stigmatized in Boston than in New York, and Bloomberg is apparently more r-ful in 2006 than he was in 2002.

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Karen and I like to listen to the puzzle on Weekend Edition Sunday. In case you’ve never heard it, the format is like this: first, New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz reminds listeners of the previous week’s puzzle challenge, for which everyone has had a chance to submit a solution by Thursday. A respondent with the correct answer is chosen at random to solve a set of small word puzzles on the air (and gets some puzzle-related prizes), and then another challenge is given to listeners for the following week. It’s a fun 10-or-so minutes of public radio.

It’s not atypical for the on-air puzzles and puzzle challenges to involve thinking about how words sound as opposed to how they’re spelled; Will typically distinguishes the sound-based puzzles by noting that the relevant aspect(s) of the puzzle should be considered “phonetically”. Not that I’ve been paying a ton of attention — and of course, we often don’t solve the puzzle challenge and fail to listen the following week — but I can’t remember ever thinking that the sense of “phonetic” Will uses is misleading or anything like that. Until this morning.

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Pronounce this

Over on Language Log, Geoff Pullum illustrates the (apparently important) distinction between an acronym — a word “composed of the initial letters of a phrase” such that “you can read out the initial letters as if they were a word” — and an abbreviation (the same as an acronym, except it’s not pronounceable as a word).

I agree that FTBSITTTD looks pretty unpronounceable, but then again, I would have thought that fhqwhgads is unpronounceable, but now I know that it’s (something like) [fəˈhʌg(ə)wəˌgadz]. So how about the pronunciation [fəˈtʌbsɪtəˌtʌd] — or just [fəˈtʌbsɪt] — for FTBSITTTD? It could happen.

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Benjamin Kite — who I suspect was prompted by my last post — writes to ask:

I’m presently teaching spoken English to Chinese nationals and have been noticing the intrusion of an r-like consonant into words which contain schwas and other close-mid-to-open-mid vowels, especially followed by sibilants. Common examples are:

     “famous” /fe mɝs/

     “because” /bi kɔrz/

     “Christmas” /kris mɝs/

and sometimes

     “question” /kwɛs tʃɝn/

I’m trying to figure out when and where to expect it, but I can’t find enough consistency to predict when it will arise. Do you have any ideas?

Me, I have some relatively uninformed ideas. Anyone else out there know better? Please comment!

That’s howl I talk

Happy new year, phonoloblog readers.

Over the past three nights, Karen and I watched the three-part PBS Frontline film Country Boys by David Sutherland (some of which I also commented on here yesterday). There’s lots of good stuff to say about the film; the best I can do is to recommend that you just watch it.

What I want to briefly note here is an example of intrusive [l] from the film’s theme song, Country Boy (written and performed by Ray Riddle, the father of the girlfriend — now wife — of one of the boys featured in the film). Continue reading

Orange you glad I didn't say the C-word?

Apparently, one currently popular way in the mainstream media to get around using a word that is taboo in some way or other is to say/write the X-word, where X is the first letter of the taboo word. Some examples are incredibly well-known; nobody doubts what the F-word refers to, for example. (One of Lindsay Lohan‘s twin characters in the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap uses “the F-word” to refer to her father, but the joke is that her mother naturally misunderstands what she means at first. And yes, I watch sappy Disney movies.)

(According to the NYT article linked above, “every letter of the alphabet now seems up for grabs to euphemize something unspeakable. Examples of all 26 can be found in the conventional press from the last 12 months.” Wish they had supplied the examples; for example, I’d be really curious to know what the X-word would stand for.)

There’s usually little doubt about what the C-word means — I suppose it could be one of two words, but it’s usually the one and not the other. The one’s simply more taboo than the other, possibly because it’s more often used as a direct insult to a person. (The other is hardly ever used this way; it seems to only work in that capacity when suffixed with -sucker.)

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Language use on NPR

In his comment on my recent post on angst, Adam Ussishkin notes this recent piece by NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin on language use on NPR, some of which happens to relate to my two posts last month on foreign pronunciation. Ben Zimmer writes to point to this response to some of what Dvorkin writes in the piece, which Ben found via languagehat. Here’s my favorite quote from the response:

Should we say “Pah-REE” instead of Paris? The former is linguistically correct, but that sounds très pretentious to American ears.
Uh, no. As Language Hat rather patiently points out, those pronuciations are French and English, not right and wrong.

Don’t know if there was meant to be a link to something that languagehat wrote, but a quick search for “french” reveals this recent post, among others.

Would you like to share a final vowel?

There was an interesting post yesterday over at Language Log (by newest Language Logger Ben Zimmer) about the “perilous portmanteau” that people have been using as a nickname for Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito: Scalito, a blend of (Supreme Court Justice Antonin) Scalia and Alito. There has been a flurry of discussion about this blend in the news and on several blogs, much of it linked from Ben’s post. Here I’d just like to focus on the third update to Ben’s post, part of which reads (emphasis added):

Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard also takes offense at Scalito: “The nickname is misleading. The two men may share a vowel at the end of their last name. But, needless to say, they’re different people.”

At first, I’m thinking: this is so off the mark! Scalia and Alito share the whole VCV sequence ali, which is towards the end of Scalia and at the beginning of Alito. [Added later: another, perhaps better way to put it is that the first two syllables of both names includes the ali sequence, which is rhythmically identical in both cases.] That’s what makes the blend work (as a blend, putting aside how you might feel about its use). I had to read more of Continetti’s article in order to find out what he really meant.

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The Zomb

At a Halloween party Friday night, a friend of mine was dressed in jeans, white t-shirt, and black leather jacket. He would occasionally pull out a comb and somewhat dramatically comb his hair, then give two thumbs up and say “eeeeeeeeeyyyyy” — really slowly. His face was painted to look ashen, with dark circles around his eyes. He was Arthur Zombarelli, or the zombified version of Arthur Fonzarelli of Happy Days fame, better known as Fonzie or The Fonz.

So, by analogy with Fonzarelli → Fonzie → The Fonz, my friend explained that he was Zombarelli → Zombie → The Zomb — the last of these, of course, pronounced [za:m], though when I asked my friend or anyone else at the party to repeat that, they insisted it was [za:mb], with the final oral stop. When I pointed out how odd that was — going so far as to trot out the tired old bomb ~ bombard pseudo-paradigm — everyone would insist that the point is that it’s [fa:nz], not [fa:n], so it’s [za:mb], not [za:m]. Can’t argue with that (ana)logic.

MJ and OT

I had lunch with some non-linguists today, and the conversation turned to calling people by their initials. Some interesting intuitions show up which appear to be linguistic in nature, though somewhat gradient. Here’s the deal: we know we can assign initials-based referring expressions using the first letters of the referent’s first and middle or first and last name. But there appears to be some limits on what constitutes an allowable set of initials. The example at lunch was, MJ is an allowable form, but MN and ML are not. I have some ideas about why, but it’s not so simple.

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Accent change

A recent UCSD linguistics graduate wrote to me the other day with this request.

I wondered if you, or an appropriate colleague, might be able to provide a few brief comments about accent changes with short-term versus long-term exposure. I am specifically interested in the “how” and “why” elements. How do you expect accents to change with varying exposure and why do these changes occur? How do you expect speakers to react to changes in their own speech? Do they make changes to adjust back to original accent? Are they unaware of the changes until someone points them out?

(More specifically, this person’s interest is in “accent changes that Australians experience when visiting or living in the United States.”)

I have some semi-educated guesses about this based on personal experience and my general knowledge of linguistics, but that’s about it. Anyone else know more on this topic? Please comment!

Monosegmental affricate, bisegmental cluster?

In revising a paper on complex onset phonotactics involving laterals, a question has come up about the status of /tl/ in Mexican Spanish loanword adaptations from Nahuatl. First, a description from Hualde (1999:171-172):

A word such as atlas ‘atlas’ is pronounced [ˈa.tlas] in almost all of Latin America and in areas of western Spain, while in central and eastern Spain it is pronounced [ˈat.las] ~ [ˈað.las]. … In Mexican Spanish the /tl/ cluster appears even in word-initial position, in toponyms and borrowings from Nahuatl such as Tlaxcala (place name), tlapalería ‘hardware store’, etc.

Lope Blanch (1972:97-98) ascribes this characteristic of Mexican Spanish to the influence of Nahuatl, which has a voiceless dentoalveolar lateral affricate /tɬ/. Presumably, when Spanish speakers were confronted with this phoneme in Nahuatl loanwords and Aztec toponyms, they interpreted it as a bisegmental sequence of coronal /t/ followed by the lateral liquid /l/, both of which exist independently in Spanish. The other possibility is that what is typically transcribed as [tl] is still, in fact, a monosegmental affricate, which might explain why the heterosyllabic parse of medial [t.l] is out (at least for Nahuatl-Spanish bilinguals?).

So, I’m just curious as to what kind of arguments (empirical, theory-internal, or otherwise) would be necessary to motivate the mono- versus bisegmental status of Mexican Spanish /tl/…

References cited

Hualde, José Ignacio. 1999. La silabificación en español. Fonología generativa contemporánea de la lengua española, ed. by R. Núñez Cedeño and A. Morales-Front, 177-188. Washington: Georgetown University Press.

Lope Blanch, Juan M. 1972. Estudios sobre el español de México. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Show me the magic

A couple months ago on her blog Ilani Ilani, Harvard linguistics student Bridget Samuels quoted the following from “Andrea Calabrese’s new manuscript, Markedness & Economy in a Derivational Model of Phonology, which you can download here.” (That’s a link to an index of “pubblications [sic] and work in progress” at the “Interdipartimental [sic] Center of Cognitive Studies on Language” at the Università di Siena; here‘s the direct link to the zipped .pdf file of Calabrese’s book manuscript.)

[A]n idiosyncratic and contradictory core, the product of history and its inescapable whims, will always remain. Linguists who deny this core and attempt to provide a synchronic explanation to all aspects of the phonology of a language– a common attitude, especially in OT– behave a little bit like individuals who, when faced with the painful contradictions of reality, retreat into magical thinking and try to give sense, through mysterious correspondences, to what is otherwise a broken, shattered and meaningless existence.

Let me start out by saying that, after downloading this manuscript and taking a look at some of what it covers, I have every reason to be interested in reading it. I’ve always liked Calabrese’s work; his dissertation influenced some of my thinking as I wrote my own dissertation. But there’s something truly shameful in tossing off a claim like the one quoted above.

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Still more distributional arguments

I’m teaching a grad seminar on assimilation this quarter, and this week we discussed Jaye Padgett‘s “Unabridged feature classes in phonology” (abridged published version appeared in Language, 2002; the paper dates back to these). Something came up in the discussion that I’ve been thinking about for a while, related to my two posts from a while back about distributional arguments in phonology.

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More foreign pronunciation

The hourly news summaries on NPR this morning were being delivered by Lakshmi Singh, and the top story was the earthquake in Kashmir. I wasn’t able to record a clip in time, but it was interesting to hear Singh’s pronunciation of Pakistan as [ˈpakistan] as opposed to the more usual American pronunciation [ˈpækɪstæn], especially while Kashmir, India, and Afghanistan all seemed to be pronounced with her usual native American English accent (the last of these as [əfˈgænɪstæn]). Given Singh’s name, one might expect some connection to this part of the world, though her NPR bio says that “Singh’s mother is Puerto Rican, her father is from Trinidad”, and implies that she identifies pretty strongly with the Hispanic side of her heritage, having majored in “broadcast journalism and Latin American studies” and being “a regular contributor to NPR’s Latino USA” (a show on which you can pretty reliably count on hearing Spanish-accent pronunciations of Hispanic place names even by native English speakers).

Course material update: phonolinks

Back in May, I posted a request for folks to share their phonology course materials. I received a handful of direct responses, all of them helpful and positive. But I quickly realized it would be too much work for just one person, especially if that person was going to be me.

Now that I’m teaching undergraduate phonetics again, I’m thinking it would also be very useful to have a similar compilation of online phonetics resources. Over the years I’ve found, sometimes by accident and sometimes from specific web searches, that several folks have already done things like this. Some of the examples are very thorough and excellent. I still can’t get past the fact, though, that very little of what I see builds on the work of others — everyone has their own webpage with their own links that they each have to maintain.

So what I’m now thinking is that there should be a single place for all these resources (links and material), a categorized and searchable site that all of us can contribute to and keep more-or-less updated. I’ve set up the following site for just this purpose: phonolinks. A few example entries are already up and I’ll continue to add more every so often. Read the about page, and if you’d like to participate, let me know.

Foreign pronunciation

The other night Karen and I had dinner with a couple of friends, one of whom was telling us something about her research involving Latin America. All of a sudden, in the middle of this stream of English, [onduɾas] pops out instead of [hɑndɚəs] (for ‘Honduras’, of course). A little later, I decide to ask her: why does she feel compelled to pronounce a place name like that in Spanish rather than in English? We spent most of the rest of the meal on this topic, which turned out to be more interesting than I initially imagined. Continue reading

A little experimentation

I got a little bored with the old theme for phonoloblog, so I decided to switch to this one. (It’s amazing how quick & easy it is to do all this with WordPress.) If you miss the old one, you can still see it — just scroll down to the bottom of the sidebar on the right and you’ll see a “Themes” section. Click on “Clasikue”, and you’re back to normal. If you then decide you want to come back to this theme, scroll down again and click on “Ocadia”.

young, long, and strong

I discovered recently that I pronounce young, long and strong with a final [g]. I seem to do it phrase-finally and before a following vowel initial word. It seems to be optional, but I have a clear intuition that this pronunciation is OK with these words, and not with any other engma-final words. What these have in common is that they are the adjectives that take comparative /-er/.

I found this out because my girlfriend made fun of me for pronouncing the final [g]. I didn’t believe her at first, because I know English phonology isn’t supposed to work this way, but then I caught myself doing it. I was pretty pleased when I finally figured out the generalization – it’s kind of interesting that the derived form is determining the form of the base.

So, I’m wondering whether this is my own innovation, or whether anyone has heard of anything like this. I haven’t had a chance to quiz my family and hometown friends yet…

ˌøpəl snøˌfu

When I recently upgraded by operating system to Mac OS 10.4 (Tiger), I was amused to discover that the new Dictionary application has an option to give IPA pronunciations. Well, amused and slightly apprehensive, thinking that suddenly it might be a whole lot easier to simply look up the answers to transcription assignments. As it turns out, that fear was unfounded.

As it happens, Apple must have made some kind of coding error when converting the symbols for the New Oxford American dictionary, so (almost?) all the [æ]’s come out as [ø]. They also got the stress marks switched, so [ˌ] marks primary stress, and [ˈ] marks secondary stress, and some symbol which I guess must have been meant as a barred i [ɨ] shows up as the number ‘1’ (though I’m not able to determine the principles that govern when it is used, rather than a schwa or lax [ɪ]).

Another (probably intentional) glitch is that flaps are systematically indicated as [d] (a common dictionary pronunciation “feature”)

ˌhøpin1s ɪz eɪ n(j)u ˌmøkənˈtɑʃ ˌɑpəˈreɪdɪŋ ˌsɪst1m.

When 'u' is you, not ooh

There’s a new publisher in linguistics called Equinox Publishing, which (as I noted back in June) will be publishing a book series called Advances in Optimality Theory starting in May 2006. I was just taking a coffee break and wanted to look them up to see if they were up to anything new, but I forgot their domain name; instead of searching for my June post to find it, I googled “equinox publishing” — and was surprised to find that the top result was EQUINOX PUBLISHING INDONESIA – not the London-based usurper (The “London-based usurper” was the one I was looking for, and it was the second main result of the search.) Continue reading

Identity, opacity, and derivational look-ahead

[ Update, Sept. 21: I’ve decided to write the substance of this post up as a squib, which I’ve just posted to ROA. Comments welcome! ]

I just finished what I hope are final revisions for an article that has been accepted for publication in Phonology (tentatively for vol. 22, issue 3). One of my reasons for this post is to distribute the paper for comments, suggestions, etc. The other is to comment further on what I think is a significant result of the paper.

The result is sufficiently clarified in the paper itself, but I think there’s something to be gained from some perspective on how I got there and what I think it means beyond the immediate context of the paper. As we all (phonologists, linguists, academics …) know, it’s typically a bad idea for your paper to simply march the reader through your thought process as you arrived at your ultimate solution to a problem, and so my paper does not do any of that (though there were vestiges of that sort of thing even in recent drafts). But, for those who are interested, there is always phonoloblog. Continue reading

When you're on an airplane…

Yesterday I threatened my introductory phonetics class by telling them that by taking my class, they were consigning themselves to a torturous life. All of a sudden, anything anyone says will become fodder for observation and analysis! I told them that they’d find themselves sitting on airplanes, thinking about things like what I’m about to write.

Say the word “continental”. Quick! Write it down in IPA before moving on!

{blank space here to distract you}

Now say the word “sentimental”, and write that one down in IPA too.
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Earth roughly spherical, moon devoid of dairy products, astronomers say

Aristotle was famously mistaken about at least one aspect of the human vocal anatomy: he believed that women had fewer teeth than men. Various people, notably including Bertrand Russell, have pointed this out as an example of Aristotle’s lack of concern for empirical evidence; others have suggested that he was motivated in his assertion by deliberate or subconscious misogyny.

At any rate, the Gendered Dentition Disparity Hypothesis does not seem to be taken very seriously these days, except as a symptom of Aristotle’s thought. I would be very surprised, for example, if a journalist were to interview a few dentists and then write a newspaper article announcing that, hey, it turns out women have just as many teeth as men after all! I would be even more surprised if the journalist were a woman.

And yet somehow I am not terribly surprised to find, on the front page of today’s Toronto Star, an article by Oakland Ross, who, having interviewed a few local voice coaches, reveals that Canadians don’t really say ‘oot’ and ‘aboot’. (Ross is, as far as I know, a Canadian himself; he begins the article with the words “Yes, fellow northerners, there is a Canadian accent.”) Continue reading

Examples of Judeo-Spanish innovations in an online discussion group

This is something I’ve been meaning to post for a while now, dealing partially with online data collection, partially with Judeo-Spanish phonology. Eric’s recent post mentions a talk by Bert Vaux on the pros and cons of using Google for linguistic research (see May 6, 2005, of the colloquium schedule here, or alternatively, here), which got me thinking about the use of linguistic data from online sources. On issues related to Google searching, see this article from The Economist, as well as several posts on the Language Log, e.g., by Mark Liberman, Geoffrey Pullum, and Philip Resnik. Having done some reading on phonological variation in Judeo-Spanish, I began to wonder whether the Internet might offer some authentic examples of a particular series of phonological innovations involving /we/ diphthongs.
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Interprète, L'

Reading through a fairly positive NYT review of the new movie The 40 Year-Old Virgin, I found out that it co-stars Catherine Keener. I had one of those tip-of-the-tongue-type reactions where I recognized the name but was having difficulty matching it with a face, so I IMDB’d — and found that Keener also co-starred in the recent movie The Interpreter. I also found, much to my surprise and amusement, that the convention of putting articles (a, the) at the end of a movie (or book, etc.) title for alphabetizing purposes has a funny result in French (and, I assume, other languages that are like French in relevant respects). Continue reading

Silly talk about phonology

Over on Language Log, Mark Liberman contributes a phonetician’s anecdote to the “silly talk about science” genre:

Person at party: “Someone told me that you know how to interpret spectrograms. That’s so interesting! Could you teach me?”
Phonetician: “Well, sure, it’s not hard to learn the basic techniques.”
Person at party: “That would be so exciting! I’ve always been sensitive to communications from the spirit world, and with the help of scientific instruments, I can only imagine…”

As Mark clarifies, it’s a play on how “spectrograms” sounds like “spectre-grams”. (Get it?)

At the end of the post, Mark asks for contributions: “if you have any good silly-talk-about-linguistics stories, send them to me and I’ll add them to this post.” I’m sending Mark one, but I have another one that is (a) rather lengthier than what I think Mark is looking for and (b) more suitable for phonoloblog anyway. So here goes. Continue reading

Update update

I’ve just made a couple of small administrative changes to phonoloblog that are worth noting here.

First, if you look to the sidebar on the right, right below the “join phonoloblog!” link, you’ll see a new list of contributors link. This is a link to an alphabetical list of everyone who has contributed at least one post (not just a comment) to phonoloblog, with links to their posts and to their personal websites. (Note to contributors: the links to your posts will be automatically updated, but not the links to your websites. If those change, please let me know.) Continue reading

Articulating articles

If you’re a phonoloblog reader, then the odds are good that you’re also a Language Log reader. But just in case you aren’t — or, just in case you’ve been missing it — here’s the latest installment in “the on-going saga of article unreduction” (with further links if you follow those links, all the way back to the bet that started it all, and with a side-trip or two to Chris Waigl’s blog, serendipity).

Should I be surprised?

I failed to note it here at the time, but phonoloblog‘s first birthday was almost two weeks ago, on July 22. There were no birthday cards from major newspapers, but we had a small celebration here, just me and my p-blog and a quart of beer, riding across the land, kicking up sand

(Coincidentally, this is post #200 on phonoloblog. If I were a numerologist, maybe I’d be more interested in that fact.)

Looking back, I’m not really sure exactly what all my plans and expectations were when I started phonoloblog last year. A large part of me was just excited about the medium, and I figured things would just develop in some interesting direction on their own (interesting to me, anyway). And to a significant extent, that has happened. But — and you knew there had to be a “but”, didn’t you? — there’s one expectation I’ve had for phonoloblog that hasn’t materialized, at least not in the way I’ve imagined it. Allow me to explain. Continue reading

Orthographic notes from Harry Potter

If you’re reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and a reader of this blog, you may have noticed something curious in the opening pages of the book. The first chapter, “The Other Minister”, more-or-less brings the reader back up to speed on the major events during and since the previous installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by way of the Minister of Magic updating the Prime Minister of Muggles on the goings-on in the magic world. The Prime Minister at times slightly mishears or misunderstands some words spoken by the Minister of Magic, but the way these are represented orthographically is odd. Continue reading

Segmental rule parens

Here’s a query: I know that I’ve read one or two articles somewhere in which someone proposes to abbreviate a pair/set of segmental (i.e., non-stress) rules by means of the parentheses notation, where the notation must be interpreted not (simply) as marking optional material, but in the way that it is for abbreviated stress rules: longest expansion first, disjunctive blocking else removal of innermost parenthesized material, repeat. But I’ll be damned if I can remember anything more concrete than that — the rules or the sources. I don’t even know whether I can concoct a hypothetical example that would clarify things better. Anyone know what I’m talking about?

Immediate update: OK, I can come up with an entirely hypothetical example. It’s one I’m sure is impossible, but it’ll at least clarify things. Continue reading

Caroline Islands Script

Language Hat recently linked to Abecedaria, a newish blog by Suzanne McCarthy devoted to writing systems. McCarthy already has quite an archive built up, and I was intrigued to find an entry on a Caroline Islands syllabary (CIS). She links to a proposed Unicode table on Michael Everson’s website for symbols in the syllabary, and to, a site devoted to the system that offers a lengthy discussion regarding the its possible historical origins. Its owners (Dan and Andy Koch) really seem to be keen on the notion that CIS is a Woleaian invention, contrary to Reisenberg & Kaneshiro (1960). Continue reading

Publishing snafu

Not long ago, I upgraded phonoloblog to WordPress 1.5. A positive upgrade overall, but as Geoff Pullum has noted several times over on Language Log, upgrades are sometimes also downgrades. The result in this case was that all registered phonoloblog authors were downgraded to mere “user” status (except me, because I’m not only an author, I’m also the owner). Basically, this meant that most if not all users couldn’t publish posts directly. I’ve now fixed this, I think, but let me know if I didn’t — and my apologies if you’ve been wanting to publish a post and found that you could only save a measly draft.

Front round vowels … and [r]?

Arnold Zwicky made a quick Language Log post this morning, pointing to the Wikipedia page on heavy metal umlaut. A highly edutaining page, especially if (like me) you’re at that special intersection of “Linguistics Geek” and “Music Nerd”. But there was something specific there that caught my phonologist-eye:

At one Mötley Crüe performance in Germany, the entire audience started chanting “Moertley Crueh!”

Where does that [r] in “Moertley” come from? Continue reading

Give a little whistle

Yesterday afternoon on NPR’s All Things Considered, Alaska Public Radio Network’s Gabriel Spitzer reported on the “whistling culture” of the St. Lawrence Island Yupik Eskimos. (There’s apparently an annual festival of whistled languages being held this weekend in the Turkish town of Kuşdili (ş = IPA [ʃ]); don’t know whether this town name is morphologically decomposeable, but I do know that dil is Turkish for ‘language’.) Continue reading

neighborhood update

A few weeks ago I posted some thoughts on neighborhoods for languages with contrastive segment length. The issue is that calculating the number of neighbors for a given item presumably would net different results based on how you conceive a geminate: is it a pair of segments, or is it a single segment? I had thought that the geminate-as-single-segment approach would generally provide a higher neighbor count, which preliminarily is supported by an artificial trial.
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Animal sounds

If you’ve taught (or taken!) an introductory linguistics course lately, and spent any time discussing onomatopoeia and the arbitrariness of the sign, then you’ve probably talked about how speakers of different languages make different animal sounds. And, if you bothered to do a quick Google search for “animal sounds” or “animal noises“, then one of your first few hits will have probably been Cathy Ball‘s really fun and excellent Sounds of the World’s Animals website. This site is constantly under development, accepting contributions from readers, and has been up (and recognized with various awards and such) since 1996 1995.

Which is why I was surprised to hear this story on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday this morning.

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OT book series

Speaking of the Optimal List: I forgot to cross-post here one of the very first non-ROA announcements that came through when I decided to turn the list into an announcement-only venue. It’s an announcement for a new book series, Advances in Optimality Theory, edited by Ellen Woolford and Armin Mester. Two books have so far been advertised to appear in the series, both phonology-related: Hidden Generalizations: Phonological Opacity in Optimality Theory (by John J. McCarthy, May 2006) and Optimality Theory, Phonological Acquisition and Disorders (ed. by Daniel A. Dinnsen & Judith A. Gierut, December 2006).

Talk about a coincidence

It was a complete coincidence, really. It was late April, and the mayor of San Diego had just announced his resignation, and so Geoff Pullum wrote from his office in Language Log Plaza to thumb his nose at me for living in the city that is giving California such a bad name. (It’s more than the mayor, who was recently ranked third worst in the nation; the entire city council appears to be corrupt, the deputy mayor — who is supposed to step in as Mayor on July 15 — is himself under indictment for allegedly making a deal with strip club owners to relax the don’t-touch-the-dancers laws, and the list goes on.) Continue reading

Beware of intrusive stops

A message I got yesterday (noted more fully here) reminded me of something from the 2002 documentary Spellbound, which I saw earlier this year. The film follows 8 kids as they make their way to the National Spelling Bee championship in 1999. One of these kids is Harry Altman, a really smart, sweet, and precocious 11-year-old who unfortunately loses on the word “banns“. An article in The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles notes that this word “refers to a Christian marriage notice” and that Harry had never heard of it before because he’s Jewish. But in the film, Harry himself offers a completely different reason for getting the spelling wrong: the word was incorrectly pronounced by the spelling bee announcer as “bands”. Continue reading

neighborhood puzzler

I’m struggling with finding a reasonable rubric for determining lexical neighbors in languages with contrastive segment length. The basic issue is whether to consider a substitution of one geminate segment for another to qualify as a within-neighborhood change. e.g., are osso and otto neighbors?
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As many of you know, Adam Albright and I enjoy collecting aggressive reduplications. (Short version: I’ve argued that if a word has partial internal similarity, there’s a drive to treat it as reduplicated. One consequence of such treatment is enhancement of that similarity, as in orangutan > orangutang.)

Bryan came across a fictional example the other day in Boondocks
that could be called “exuberant reduplication”:
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Circum locutions

Well, we’re all agreed that there’s an extra nasal in this token of the word circumnavigate; we’re just not sure what it is. Eric says it sounds labial to him; Bob says it’s more likely velar. And now I’ve joined Phonoloblog for the immediate purpose of asserting my opinion that the sound in question is actually an alveolar [n]—although I hope I will have other things to say here in the future, possibly even things that are more interesting and/or less contrarian.

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animated chain shifts

Here and there phonoblog has links to teaching resources for phonetics and phonology. I have one to add: a recent concoction that I’ve developed to illustrate the goings on in a chain shift of vowels. In trying to put myself back in the shoes of an undergraduate, I was imagining that seeing a static vowel chart with arrows leading away from IPA symbols might be a little cryptic. (Especially in a lower-level class about language and society in which I’m not pushing them to learn IPA through and through).

Turns out wicked little Powerpoint now lets you move existing slide objects around with its animation tools, which I decided to take advantage of. I have posted some examples for you to check out: the idea is that words (representing phoneme classes) move in two-dimensional vowel space when you advance the slide. (I used words since moving the phonetic symbols is uninterpretable).

The examples are the Northern Cities Shift and the Canadian shift. In the NCS, I do not commit to a push or pull chain, but the Canadian animation suggests a pull-chain precipitated by the low-back merger. The fronting of /u/ is also to be taken with some salt; I have heard it from many Canadians, but by impression is that it has not quite arrived in the quirky little dialect of Urban Eastern Ontario English that I speak.

The Canadian slide also demonstrates a bit of a problem with the approach: limited dimensionality. Since the slides only manipulate height and backness, but not length or roundness, they risk illustrating a non-existent merger. (This is why I left off my Scottish vowel space). It is also difficult to illustrate diphthongs and monophthongs, which is why I left off my Southern vowel shift.

I’m leaving the comments open, so if you think these are (a) cool or (b) dumb you can say so.

The slides are in Office 2003’s PC version of Powerpoint, so I apologize if your platform doesn’t display it well.
Note that I had implemented a similar idea with an animated gif in the Language Samples Project, but constructing these is fairly time consuming. Also: the st__ck series is one I find particularly illustrative, and I found in it a paper by Charles Boberg.

… or don't say it at all.

Gmail is probably not able to tell if you’re gay, but the targeted text ads are pretty interesting. A significant amount of the mail I get at phonoloblog#gmail|com are accompanied by the following “sponsored link” for a company which happens used to be located in nearby Carlsbad, CA (recently relocated to Tybee Island, GA):

Got /r/ problems? – The Entire World of R -the ultimate program for all 21 vocalic /r/ ‘s

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Human subjects & fieldwork

From what I gather (and this has certainly been true of my brief experience here at UCSD) most research institutions require their researchers to obtain human subjects approval not only for what I’ll call (for lack of a better word) “physical” experiments — ones that involve some sort of poking or prodding of the subject, or that involve putting things in their mouths or strapping them to machines, etc. — but also for purely “verbal” experiments, such as interviews or elicitations. Continue reading


While listening to NPR’s Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me! a few weeks ago, I heard the coolest speech error: circumnavimgate for circumnavigate.

(In Adam Felber‘s defense, he committed the error during the “Lightning Fill-in-the-Blank” portion of the show; it’s amazing to me that the panelists don’t commit more speech errors than they do during that time. Besides, Adam won the game that particular week, speech error notwithstanding.)

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Opaque feeding interactions

Just a day after I posted the answer to the “A counterbleeds B” conundrum, Elliott Moreton — not having read the answer yet — wrote to say:

My money is on the later rule’s counterbleeding the earlier one.

Casual followers of the discussion thus far will have figured out that Elliott doubled his money. More careful readers will also note that I more recently cited a 2002 paper co-authored by Elliott and Paul Smolensky in which the relevant phrase “A counterbleeds B” is used incorrectly in two different ways.

  1. A precedes B, so B should counterbleed A. Elliott’s e-mail to me clarifies that he understands that the later rule (B) counterbleeds the earlier rule (A), so it’s somewhat surprising that he got this wrong in the paper.

  2. The rules A and B cited by Moreton & Smolensky are not even in a counterbleeding relationship, as it turns out. If anything, A feeds B (as I clarified before and am about to clarify again).

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X Counter{bl/f}eeds Y

During all the recent discussion about counterfeeding and counterbleeding relationships, Eric and I had an email exchange over the role of illustrations in elucidating the usage of each. The short story is, I had hoped that I’d found a way to corroborate the definition of X counterfeeds Y given by Koutsoudas et al., which had served as the arbiter for Colin and Eric’s bet. But at the risk of sounding vague, we ended up agreeing that I might not have.

It started with me remembering that this was not the first thread about counter[_]eeding to appear on phonoloblog; the concept also appeared last fall in a post by Eric about the use of pictures in a phonology textbook. Continue reading

what else is new

OK, I’m trying to be good about finding at least a whif of phonology to highlight in my posts. I know I haven’t always stuck to this, but you know the updated rules. This headline, by way of Yahoo!, is one I couldn’t let pass. The link may die, but here’s the headline and lead:

Health – AP

Study: Cloned Meat, Milk Nearly the Same
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Here’s another passage I’ve been forgetting to post.

Recently (15 March 2005) on Jeopardy, a contestant failed to move on in the Ultimate Tournament of Champions (whose pinnacle will be a chance for two 5-time champions to compete against Ken Jennings) because of an answer judged incorrect in Final Jeopardy. I forget the details of the clue, but it was a quotation by Vincent Van Gogh (unnamed in the clue) about one of his paintings. The answer is supposed to be “What is Starry Night?”, but the contestant pluralized night. So “What is Starry Nights?” was wrong, and the guy’s wager would have been enough to move him on to the next round, had he used a singular. Continue reading

and that makes me Bert

Indeed, truncations to unstressed elements are “not supposed to happen”. But they do, which makes me think of several things.

One is something I’d tentatively call Aggressive Footing*, as long as Philip (uh, Lip?) doesn’t mind this bit of terminology: processes that require feet may create them. Eric’s example is the footing of the truncated {chris}topher as [tofər]. Topher wasn’t a foot before truncation, but it sure is after. Continue reading

Just call me Ric.

I caught the first few minutes of Saturday Night Live the other night, which was hosted by Topher Grace (it was a repeat from sometime in January). During his opening monologue, Topher took mock questions from the audience, and someone asked him something I’ve actually been wanting to know, namely: what’s up with Topher? (It’s pronounced, as you might imagine, [ˈthoʊfɚ].) Topher then explains that, like Chris, it’s short for Christopher.

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Say it like it sounds

I never thought I’d say this, but I kind of miss Liane Hansen on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. I guess she’s been on vacation, and sitting in for her these days is Shielah Kast. Liane is well-known for saying some pretty goofy things when puzzle master Will Shortz comes on the air, but take a listen to what Shielah had to say this morning. Will asked Shiela if she has a favorite word, and Shielah responded:

[…] the word that I have actually lingered over a lot since last week is ephemera. I thought that was a beautiful word that you used, and I just like that word. […] I don’t know whether that’d be an example of onomatopoeia or not; it almost sounds like what it is … ephemeral.

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I’ve gotten a handful of replies to my query earlier this week about the meaning of “A counterbleeds B”, and I’ve also polled a few people personally. Given the nearly-even split in the replies (4 for my bet-losing definition, 5 for Colin’s bet-winning one), I’m confident that there’s something weird going on with this “counter-” morpheme, whatever it is.

Just to set the record straight from the beginning: I’m not on some sort of mission to change this terminology. (I also don’t care about my $10; I lost ’em fair and square.) Sure, the concepts are complex enough on their own without the difficulty with the terminology, but I’m not convinced the concepts would be made any easier to understand if the terminology were unambiguous. Some people simply internalize it one way (in terms of the example I gave, “Lengthening counterbleeds Devoicing”) and others the other way (“Devoicing counterbleeds Lengthening”), but the ordering relation itself (“Lengthening and Devoicing are in a counterbleeding relationship”) is not under dispute, and that’s really all that matters.

Besides, this issue just doesn’t seem to come up all that often, if at all. For all I know, Colin and I are the first to notice that there was something to notice here. Sure, I’ve only discussed this with fewer than a dozen people and phonoloblog has not (yet) reached all phonologists, but nobody’s written to tell me that this issue has been the topic of discussion somewhere, whether in writing or between some stumbling-drunk phonologists at a party (or whatever).

OK, so are you ready to find out the answer? Read on.

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I lost $10 to Colin Wilson the other day. We bet on what the correct definition of “Rule A counterbleeds Rule B” is; specifically, which rule is A and which rule is B in a counterbleeding relationship. We agreed on a particular source as arbiter, and this source defined “A counterbleeds B” in the way Colin did, and so Colin won.

For various reasons (not the least of which was having lost $10), I got interested in just how very wrong I was, and so I did a little digging — but only a little, since I’m away from my usual sources at the moment and I don’t have time for extensive googling or anything like that. But I observed two interesting things in this little bit of digging:

  1. At least in the more recent literature and in class notes available online, it’s more common to see use of only the -ing form counterbleeding; e.g., “rules A and B are in a counterbleeding relationship”. This side-steps the “A counterbleeds B” problem.

  2. In the relatively fewer sources that explitly make a statement like “A counterbleeds B” (equivalently, “B is counterbled by A”) there is disagreement. Some identify A and B like Colin does, some like I do.

I’ll reveal the bet-winning definition in a later post (as well as the source Colin and I used as arbiter). In the meantime, I’d like to ask all phonoloblog readers to consider the counterbleeding relationship described below and to write to me (phonoloblog#gmail|com) saying which rule you think counterbleeds the other. I’d prefer “unrehearsed” replies; if you end up looking it up somewhere, I’d appreciate it if you let me know (i) where and (ii) whether or not your intuition agreed with that definition. I won’t reveal anyone’s identity unless you specifically say that I can.

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Flap, tap, and insert

Eric’s preceding post contains a “note to self” to compile a list of phonoloblog links that bear on the current tighty whitey thread unfolding at Language Log. Well, Eric and others, I have already compiled such a list, because I think phonoloblog has quite a bit of content in its archives that pertains to diphthongs and/or flaps. It’s posted as an update to an old post of mine, and to cut to the chase I added an anchor that takes you directly to the update.


By way of Sun Media, the following linguistic oddity showed up online today:

Copyright kills movie title

TORONTO — A Toronto woman who owns the trademark for the word “wannabe” says she’s the reason the title of an upcoming film starring singer Ashlee Simpson has been changed. Robin Devine said she trademarked “wannabe” in 1985 after hearing her husband say it.

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Films with phonology-related names

While Googling for new examples of intrusive vowels, I keep running into a 1976 film called “New Improved Institutional Quality: In the Environment of Liquids and Nasals a Parasitic Vowel Sometimes Develops”. It’s apparently a 10 minute artsy kind of thing. Has anyone seen it?

How hard can it be?

The LA Times has a story by Steve Lopez this morning about how local voters have trouble pronouncing the name of mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa. Transparently it’s a practical issue, if indeed the name is such a challenge. If you read only the headline and first few paragraphs, you’d believe voters want leaders whose names are easy to pronounce. Read a little more, and you discover what the piece ought to have mentioned a little earlier: the more pressing issue is the willingness of voters to vote outside ethnic lines. Continue reading

Scripted reality

Feedback courtesy of Grant Barret reaches me via secure channels regarding a recent post of mine about observing linguistic data in participants of reality-based TV shows. It appears I was a bit cavalier in my overview of the structure of such shows, and I may have implied (unintentionally) that I believe the course of events in any such show is free of the producers’ influence. In light of Grant’s response, I should (a) acknowledge the influence of producers and (b) comment on the degree of scriptedness in reality TV.

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What's in a name?

My band decided not to go for Remedial Syntax Workshop as a name, which is just as well. The problem is that we came up with so many possible names that we couldn’t really decide on one. I suggested we keep some of them for album titles, but given that we’re highly unlikely to ever release an album, the suggestion fell flat.

One of my bandmates suggested instead that we just have multiple names: one name for the band, and one name for each band member’s side project — each side project just so happens to be with all of the other members of the original band. (There’s also a name for the supergroup encompassing all of the side projects; I know, it’s kind of getting out of hand, but so what, we’re having fun with it.) So now it’s up to each of us to select a name for our side project. All of a sudden I realized that I hadn’t really been suggesting any names all along; I’d just been expressing my opinions on suggestions made by the others. So I’ve been sort of thinking about it in the back of my mind, and I find myself wishing I hadn’t accidentally stumbled across the following post by Marc at bLing Blog, commenting on my linguistically-inspired band names post:

Eric Bakovic writes about linguistically-inspired band names. He’s an OT phonologist and I can’t help but wonder how he missed out on “Richness of the Bass”. Well, I’m calling dibs on the title if I ever get my drums out of storage.

Damn, that is a good one, and it flew right by me. (Nice to know there’s another drummer out there who reads phonoloblog, though.) While we’re calling dibs on band names inspired by the OT/phonology union, though, here’s a short list of ideas off the top of my head, in no particular order (and perhaps to be added to at a later date).

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Homophonous linguists and spam

At the most recent LSA I found out that there is more than one set of “homophonous linguists”: a pair of scholars in the field who share the same name. Turns out that not only are there two Stefan Frisches, there are also two Matthew Gordons. And one of the Stefans has a way of combatting spam that I thought I’d share here, since spam has had a direct effect on the structure of phonoloblog.

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Apprentice phonology

Reality TV seems to generate good linguistic data. A case in point came last December, but this was on the part of a viewer rather than a cast member. But the casts of reality shows offer gems of their own, because of the nature of the production: despite the contrived premise of (nearly) any reality show, there are prototypical features that distinguish reality-based TV from fictional TV. For example, reality TV is unscripted, and the participants are not actors (except in the celebrity-reality subgenre, where the participants are celebrities, but not “on”, or not in character). Much of the footage is also candid and never re-shot.

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pentasyllabic is pentasyllabic

But it’s not monomorphemic.

Tatamagouchi is both, though, (at least for English speakers) because it’s a place name. The cool thing about place names is that they can get pretty long, without internal morpheme boundaries to mess things up. Long names (four or more syllables) are good for telling us where secondary stress likes to go when there’s no derivational residue. So, perhaps, are active ingredients in heartburn medication.

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Cleopatterer Again

I think I have a possible answer to Eric’s question, also, although we’d have to do some research on the exact chronology. In Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate there’s the great song ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’, which has great rhymes. One of them, of course, is:

Just declaim a few lines from Othella
And they’ll think you’re a hell of a fella
If your blonde won’t respond when you flatter ‘er
Tell her what Tony told Cleopatterer

Here the motivation for the extra syllable is clear, but Kiss Me Kate premiered in 1948, so the silly pronunciation may have been floating around. But the film was dated 1946, so maybe not. According to the soundtrack of Till the clouds roll by was the first ever released of a live (as opposed to animated) movie.
Anyway, tiny additional amount of data from a Broadway freak…


Linguistically-inspired band names

As I finished that last post, this Language Log post popped up in my RSS reader. It’s Mark Liberman’s third attempt to summarize some of what’s happening in the “linguablogosphere”. In the first one (back in May 2004), Mark wrote:

Here are some things I’ve enjoyed reading this morning, just browsing our blogroll from B to D (I’ll start from some other point in the alphabet tomorrow)

Mark’s a busy guy, and there’s a lot of linguablogosphere to cover: “tomorrow” became September 2004, when Mark wrote:

It’s getting to be pretty hard to keep with the language-related blogosphere.

That day, Mark went from A to C. So now it’s February 2005, and Mark has started over from the beginning of the alphabet, going from A to E.

21 letters to go — but I have to go shopping for dinner. I’ll continue the journey tomorrow. Apologies to anyone I’ve missed; this dense, scholarly blogging stuff is hard to do in a hurry.

At this rate, I’m thinking I should rename this blog “AAA-phonoloblog” or something. Or, Mark might try hitting his blogroll randomly instead of alphabetically. (Note that my blogroll is displayed randomly; maybe this isn’t something you can do with MovableType? Too bad.)

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Being home sick has its disadvantages. Well, being home sick without cable has its disadvantages. For those of you who have cable, imagine this: at that point of the day when the only thing your weakened mind can handle is TV, you find that you only have 5 channels to choose from and the only worthwhile one is PBS.

Not that I don’t like PBS. Friday night programming can be pretty good: Washington Week followed by NOW (without Bill Moyers now, but give David Brancaccio a break, he’s got some big shoes to fill). NOW used to be followed by that awful Tucker Carlson show on my public TV station, but not anymore. Last night they had the third installment in MGM’s self-congratulatory retrospective, That’s Entertainment III.

But ANYWAY, one of the (post-)WWII-era musicals noted in this retrospective was Till the Clouds Roll By (“The mammoth musical of Jerome Kern’s dramatic life story!”), featuring lots of big MGM stars (Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, …). And one of the songs in this musical is called Cleopatterer (sung and danced by Ray McDonald and June Allyson).

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Did you mean: tverdovsky

Lisa’s post got me to revisit the name Tverdovsky, apparently the standard Anglicization of the Russian name Твёрдовский, if I’ve got it right. Like Dvorak and Vlasic, Tverdovsky has an initial cluster which is illicit in many non-Slavic languages, and which is often resolved with epenthesis. Further, since the Anglicized form of Tverdovsky carries penultimate stress, the epenthetic vowel is before a weak syllable, so in speech it sometimes is stressed, being realized as [ɛ]. When I first remarked upon it, I did not look for Google misspellings, but I have done so now and can report on the results. Updated 2/7/05.

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Underlying representations on google

As many of you know, I spend a lot of time thinking about consonant clusters. More specifically, I’m interested in what the production of non-native clusters may tell us about the phonological processing and representation of such sequences.

In general, it seems at least plausible to me that for borrowings with phonotactically illegal onsets, literate people who produce CC sequences as CVC may nevertheless represent these words with an underlying CC. At least in English, a lot of the relevant words are proper names or brand names that people may learn by reading. On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence from the loanword literature that the output of “first generation” speakers who repair offending sequences serves as the input to the “second generation”, who then reanalyze the underlying form.

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Thematic Superbowl

Sounds like a showdown to determine the World Champion of Syntax… but actually, the upcoming Superbowl provides a particularly rare collocation of team names. I’ve been playing with this post for a week now but didn’t know what to do with it, since it’s not really phonological (although that hasn’t stopped me before, nor is it technically against my reading of the rules. But while out for the morning walk I realized that a lot of the active discussion on phonoloblog starts with something one or another of us reads on Language Log. Examples include our recent flap debate, gaydar, nucular vs parapalegic, and trendy IPA usage.

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Philip is right… when it comes to developing terminology, I’ve scored some real zeroes. Underoptimization may sound icky, but I’d meant it to evoke underspecification in an OT frame, while maintaining a distinction from Lexicon Optimization. Meanwhile his post persuasively suggests that the distinction may be an unnecessary one.

Another icky word that still makes me chuckle is stipulativity, which I included in a title of a paper I presented at the LSA in Boston. Continue reading

It's all in the grammar

I have been following the discussion on flapping. While I tend to think that Bob is on the right track, there is one thing that really sets my teeth on edge, and that is his term “Underoptimization”. What is that supposed to mean? Sounds like a bad tune-up.

There seems to be a misconception here about what Lexicon Optimization is. Lexicon Optimization doesn’t mean that inputs have to look like outputs, or that inputs have to be fully specified either. It means only that the same grammar that determines outputs also predicts inputs. So depending on the grammar, Lexicon Optimization might imply that underlying forms are underspecified.

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Bob is absolutely right — I grossly mischaracterized his Lexicon Underoptimization idea. (Bob concludes that my mischaracterization was “derived ultimately from [his] earlier failure to elucidate [his idea] adequately”, but I think he’s just being kind here; given that there was not a single mention of markedness in Bob’s original post, I had little if any justification for linking his thoughts about underspecification to any notion of markedness.)

Bob also makes very clear the issue with Lexicon Optimization that we’ve been discussing. When unleashed on morphemes with nonalternating [ɾ], Lexicon Optimization selects /ɾ/ and not /t/ or /d/ as the underlying representation; assuming that Sally Thomason’s experimental results tell us that the underlying representation of such forms actually has /t/, then (obviously) Lexicon Optimization makes the wrong choice. Bob’s Lexicon Underoptimization idea is meant to address exactly this problem: “when positing underlying representations, remove any feature specification that is not needed to generate the proper output”.

With all that cleared up, I still have questions — and I hope I don’t just mischaracterize Bob’s position again.

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Still More on /t/

This is my first official post, so apologies if I get things wrong, either etiquette-wise or technologically…

It would be interesting to see what assorted ‘illiterate’ subjects to with other allophones of /t/. David Stampe told me years ago of children who systematically replaced their parents’ glottal stops with slightly aspirated [t]’s in word such as ‘kitten’, ‘mitten’. This was particularly interesting since the adults never said [mIt@n].
Given his views, of course, what the children were doing was perceiving the intention and pronouncing that, since they didn’t yet control glottal stops. That doesn’t explain why children would systematically revert to the voiceless underlying target in non-alternating contexts however.

More on /t/

Sharon Rose reminds me that her 4 1/2-year-old daughter Helen has been pronouncing taps in flapping contexts as [t] for quite some time now. Sharon is Canadian and her parents are English, and due in part to this background Sharon more often than not does not apply flapping herself. Helen’s father Tadesse is from Ethiopia, and there are also very few if any taps to be found in his English.

One might think, then, that Helen has picked up on the tendency in her family’s speech toward the variants without flapping. What’s interesting, though, is that Helen has [t] even where there is no [t] variant; so, words like latter and ladder are both [lætɚ] with a [t].

I have a guess about what’s going on here, consistent with what I’ve said before but probably on as flimsy a limb as what Bob said.

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Lisping letters

David Sedaris’s entertaining collection of essays entitled Me Talk Pretty One Day begins with a story about his first encounters with a speech therapist to correct his lisp. She made a great show of enunciating her own sparkling s‘s, Sedaris writes, and the effect was profoundly irritating. […] If I wanted to spend the rest of my life as David Thedarith, then so be it. She, however, was going to be called Miss Chrissy Samson.

Sedaris italicizes pretty much every s that Miss Samson pronounces. He correctly italicizes several c‘s that are pronounced as [s] (certified, December, fiancé), but there are three interesting mistakes to note here on phonoloblog.

  1. Although (nearly) all s‘s that are pronounced as [z] are italicized (colleges, is, does) — which I assume Sedaris also lisped — no z‘s are italicized. Of Sedaris’s tongue, Miss Samson says: “It’s just plain lazy.”
  2. An instance of c is italicized when it is pronounced [ʃ]: Especially. By contrast, the one time sh comes up in Miss Samson’s speech, it’s not italicized (Asheville). I don’t know if or how a lisping problem affects [ʃ], but there is at the very least an inconsistency here. (See note below.)
  3. All three instances of x, pronounced [ks], are not italicized: mixer, six, next.

It’s quite possible that Miss Samson was simply an incompetent speech therapist, but keep in mind that Sedaris is recalling events from the 5th grade; the dialogue was reinvented and the italics were added where Sedaris thought they were necessary. But I also think that at least some of the mistakes were due to an overzealous copy editor, not to some lack of linguistic sophistication on Sedaris’s part.

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More distributional arguments

I’m back to teaching undergraduate phonology after an inexcusably long four year hiatus (having to do with departmental staffing priorities, certainly not my personal preferences). I have almost 50 students this quarter, almost twice as many as I had when I last taught the course in 2001; I’ve had to modify my approach accordingly, but I’m still enjoying it — especially since I get to re-read parts of my favorite textbook, K&K’s Generative Phonology: Description and Theory (Academic Press, 1979), which I essentially use as a teacher’s guide.

There’s an excellent problem set from Russian discussed at the beginning of Chapter 3 (titled simply “Alternations”). This problem set packs a lot of punch for the beginning phonology student: the final devoicing rule that demonstrates that the basic alternant is not necessarily the unsuffixed one, a crucial feeding order between l-drop and final devoicing, and an equally crucial bleeding order between l-drop and dental stop deletion (also a crucial counterbleeding order). And, as usual, K&K’79 proceed through the problem set with some of the most thorough argumentation that you’re likely to see anywhere.

In their discussion of the dental stop deletion rule, K&K’79 present an argument for deletion as opposed to epenthesis that is highly reminiscent of the distributional arguments I commented on last month. Continue reading

Corporate bilingualism

Another interesting chapter unfolds in the language-policy domain of Canadian store sign regulation, by way of This time the regulator is small-town municipal rather than provincial, and in a different province (barely). The story is brief, so I have pasted the whole thing below, with some background notes for those of you unfamiliar with the history or the players.
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Spam and the suppression of dialogue

This post is partly to thank Eric publicly for giving comments a shot on phonoloblog – as a contributor I enjoyed seeing what readers had to say in response to my posts, but agree that the effects of comment spam make the comment function unworthwhile. It’s like trying to have a conversation in a loud restaurant … and not only does the ambient noise drown you out, it actively seeks to interrupt and co-opt your conversation. It’s bogus.
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This afternoon I was listening to CBC‘s Radio 1 on my computer, using the Edmonton station in order to listen to a 2:30 show at 1:30 PST. I kept listening to the next show, apparently a local one, with Peter Brown hosting a sort of New Year’s Eve musical face-off between Alberta and Saskatchewan.

There was an interesting bit in which Brown, who apparently grew up partly in Saskatoon, interviewed people on the street (of what city, I didn’t hear—maybe Edmonton?) about how to pronounce ‘Saskatchewan’.

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Syllabification, by Capital One

The television stations have lately been running an ad for Capital One that I’ve seen several times now. This ad is the newest installation of the David Spade series, where he plays a smarmy telemarketer who says “no” to all of his clients’ requests. This time, Spade is responsible for teaching a trainee his method for turning everyone down. Spade gives the trainee a scenario or 2, and the guy says “no” after every one. Then Spade says, “Mix it up! Tic tac no! Ei-ei-no! Marco….” And the trainee responds, “Polno?”

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Who do you wanna win?

An interesting piece of data came up the other day worth sharing. I’m trained to notice funny constructions, as are we all, like the time someone close to me said the sentence in (1):

(1) These bottles drink better.
(context: longnecks, as opposed to stubbies).

Usually discussions like this can’t go on phonoloblog, because they’re not phonological, like the funny coreference I heard from a broadcaster in (2):

(2) Nobody draws more comparisons to hisi father than Brett Hulli.

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Distributional arguments

A few days ago, I re-read the following argument by McCarthy & Prince (1993:181):

(1) The (velar glide-final) Axininca Campa root /iraɰ/ behaves as if it were /raɰ/; that is, a single syllable as opposed to two (for the purposes of the phonology of the velar glide).
(2) Suppose that the /i/ in /iraɰ/ (and in all /ir/-initial roots) is epenthetic, and that the monosyllabic behavior of /iraɰ/ is calculated before epenthesis applies (or however epenthetic segments are ignored).
(3) As it turns out, /r/-initial roots are unknown in Axininca Campa, save for a single borrowing (rapisi ‘pencil’, from Spanish lápiz). This is expected if underlyingly /r/-initial roots undergo /i/-epenthesis, becoming /ir/-initial roots.
(4) Furthermore, /ir/-initial roots are far more common than other /Vr/-initial roots. This is expected if /ir/-initial roots have two underlying sources, as opposed to only one for other /Vr/-initial roots.

(3) may already be convincing enough for some folks to believe (2) as an explanation for (1). (Note: the empirical claim in (3) is based on “an examination of [the] root lexicon of [David Payne’s (1981) The Phonology and Morphology of Axininca Campa], containing approximately 850 entries”.) I’m not going to address that here; what I’m interested in is (4), which appears to rely on the following (unstated) assumption:

(5) Underlyingly, all segmental strings (of equal length) have equal distributions (= probabilities of occurrence).

I find this assumption to be less than convincing, though perhaps I wouldn’t have blogged about it if I hadn’t heard a talk yesterday in which a very similar (also unstated) assumption was invoked. With Geoff Pullum’s OICTIQ principle firmly in mind, I thought I’d investigate further. Continue reading

Speak American, please

Last week my sister sent me a link to an online supplement for a feature CBC had done on the air. The story was about a dialect coach in Calgary who trains Canadian actors to sound American. Thought you’d mind this amusing, she said. Well, I did, for several reasons. First was the obstacle any lay discussion about accents faces, which is the inability of the standard orthography to express dialectal contrasts at the phonological level. This, despite the intrusion of IPA into pop culture (a short-lived fad?).

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How expanded is your vowel space?

Over at Language Log, Mark Liberman discusses an article in the October 2004 issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America by Pierrehumbert, Bent, Munson, Bradlow and Bailey, entitled “The Influence of Sexual Orientation on Vowel Production”. It seems that if gmail doesn’t out you, your vowels might …

(Note: Hunting down the URLs for each of the authors definitely turned out to be worth it.)

Update: Bill Poser continues the discussion of “phonetic gaydar” on Language Log.

Writing and phonological information

Henry Davis told me on Friday night about something very interesting. In Lillooet, there is a distinction between velars and uvulars. This distinction is very robust; Henry says it carries a “high functional load”. Speakers consequently reliably distinguish and identify them in speech.

When writing, on the other hand, Henry claims that some consistently get this robust distinction right, as I think we’d all expect: they use velar symbols for velars and uvular symbols for uvulars. But others tend to mix them up: uvular symbols are, unpredictably, sometimes used to represent velars and vice-versa. So Henry asks me: why should that be?

Honestly, I don’t know. But here is the guess I ventured.

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Tatamagouchi, Winnepesaukee, Lollapalooza, Parapalegic

In a post on Language Log yesterday, Mark Liberman linked to this audio clip of John Kerry from the second presidential debate. Mark writes:

There’s […] an extra schwa between [p] and [l] in paraplegic and quadraplegic, similar to the extra schwa in Bush’s much-discussed “nucular” pronunciation of nuclear.

When it comes to matters phonological, we here at phonoloblog take such claims like “phono-fact x is similar to phono-fact y” seriously. Perhaps too seriously. In any event, what you are about to read (should you choose to do so) is not at all serious in the all-important sense of “well researched”, but it is serious in the lesser sense of “I’m actually interested in this, but I hope someone who knows more about this than I do will pick it up and run with it.” We’ll see how things turn out.

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Only if and except when

I’ve been scribbling about triggering environments for diphthong raising in Canadian English for the last few days, because I keep hearing examples in my own speech that illustrate a complication in the process. The canonical pattern is that the low-nucleus diphthongs acquire a raised central nucleus before voiceless consonants (in the same word). Thus (roughly) [aw] and [aj] become [ʌw] and [ʌj]; the contrast is observable in pairs like ride [rajd] vs. write [rʌjt].
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Elsewhere and parenthesis notation

This is one of those posts where I just assume you’re a phonologist.

Suppose you have a set of rules that can be collapsed into a single rule A using SPE parenthesis notation, and another (nonabbreviated) rule B. Is it possible for A and B to be disjunctively ordered via the Elsewhere Condition — that is, is it possible to meet these two conditions?

  1. The structural changes (SCs) of the two rules conflict.
  2. The structural description (SD) of one of the rules properly includes the SD of the other.

The real difficulty is with (2). For starters, what is the SD of the abbreviated Rule A? Is it equivalent to the SD of its longest expansion, or something else?

An example might help.

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Amateur transcibers

I have been scrolling through the pronunciation guide I mentioned in a comment about broadcasters’ rendering of Russian and other polysyllabic names. I guess I was thinking it would be a good source to check on how names are anglicized, since it provides “foh-NEH-tihk” pronunciations, including STRESS and a key for deciphering the transcriptions. Let me say here that I don’t consider it a fully reliable source for data.

A closer look on my part shows that it might need its own Cliff notes, since there are a few problems with symbol consistency. Continue reading

Old World vs. New World phonology

By some trick of the human mind, Eric’s recent apology to the ‘Old World folks’ reminded me of Stephen Anderson. In his beautiful 1985 book Phonology in the Twentieth Century, Anderson wrote:

If a paper on ‘the morphosyntax of medial suffixes in Kickapoo�, bursting with unfamiliar forms and descriptive difficulties, is typical of American linguistics, its European counterpart is likely to be a paper on �l�arbitraire du signe� whose factual basis is limited to the observation that tree means �tree� in English, while arbre has essentially the same meaning in French.

This is obviously a caricature (of the way things were in the 1930s), and a funny one at that, but it is also acurate even to describe the current situation. A ‘typical’ American linguistics paper seems to be much more concerned with getting the facts right, whereas ‘typical’ European linguistics seems more interested in the overall structure of theories. The ‘typical’ American phonologists of today is studying brain scans, while his Old World colleague struggles with the definition of interconsonantal government. It’s not clear a priori which of those approaches will turn out to be most fruitful, and there are of course exceptions to the rule — Alan Prince, for instance, has won an honorary citizenship of the European Union with his work of the past few years; and there are many fine linguists in many parts of the world who behave sometimes as Old World, and as New World at other times. It is a mystery to me what explains this different academic and intellectual culture, especially since it seems to have been true for such a long time.

(The only linguistic fact in this post is about tree and arbre. My apologies, New World folks!)

[Update 04/09/23: The discussion is continued at Language Log]

Italian vowel apocope description?

Yesterday’s NYT has a dreadful article about how Italian immigrants are “linguistically challenged” and “mangle” the pronunciation of words like prosciutto — the headline is “You Say Prosciutto, I say Pro-SHOOT, and Purists Cringe”.

Can anyone recommend a good description of vowel apocape across Italian dialects, or at least in a few representative cases? Something available online would be best. Thanks in advance.

Hypercorrection in Brazilian English?

While we seem to be on the topic of the L2 English phonology of our south american kin, I wanted to bring up an observation and see if others had noticed anything similar elsewhere: some speakers of Brazilian Portuguese, who epenthesize [i] in consonant clusters (e.g. ‘gifit’ for ‘gift’) appear to also *drop* [i] word-finally (e.g. ‘unhealth’ for ‘unhealthy’ and ‘Chomsk’ for Chomsky). A possible explanation seemed to be in terms of a hypercorrective deletion rule.

[aj] [aj]

Here’s a follow up to the [aj] discussion – I promised my own formant plot in an earlier post.

It’s below, including a trajectory of the [aj] in five against the vowel in cot, and it appears as if the nucleus of the diphthong indeed goes through the same space as the plain back vowel.

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[aj] stand corrected

Judging by Mark Liberman’s vowel plots it looks like I was off the mark on the rarity of back nuclei in the [aj] diphthong. At least, it looks like the nucleus in Mark’s five passes through the same space as the back vowels in his caught and cot. My excuse here is that my Canadian ear hears them all as central. I’ll try to get a microphone and record similar plots for my own speech, just for fun.

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Don't start me on diphthongs…

Eric, I was going to post this as a comment, but couldn’t figure out how.

Just a quick reaction to the diphthong bit. Nice of Eric to blame the journalist instead of the linguist. Anyway, among my thoughts about diphthongs here, I might have some hairs to split.

I think we’ll agree that [aj] is usually not front. And it’s probably too understanding of us to attribute such a statement to an awareness of its underlying specification.
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Chasing Amy

Earlier today, Mark Liberman commented on Language Log about a study by Amy Perfors that has gotten some recent media attention.

Perfors has a nice, informal summary of the study and its results here, but for those of you who just don’t wanna follow the links: in a nutshell, Perfors claims to have found that men whose names (in English) have stressed front vowels are rated as somewhat more attractive than men whose names have stressed back vowels, while women whose names have stressed back vowels are rated as somewhat more attractive than women whose names have stressed front vowels. So, Craig is (statistically) somewhat hotter than Paul, but Laura is hotter than Jamie. (And hence the relevance to phonoloblog.)

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strongly vs weakly unattested

A variant of the distinction between strongly and weakly unattested forms is the distinction between phonotactically prohibited forms and accidental gaps. What we want to do is distinguish between strings of 0 frequency which the grammar says can’t occur and strings of 0 frequency which the the history of the language has accidentally never produced. Recent work by Elliott Moreton (see his dissertation and 2002 paper in Cognition) shows how these two kinds of 0s can be distinguished experimentally. The case in point was [tl] vs [pw], where the former is prohibited and the latter accidentally absent. Moreton showed that when asked to judged a continuum from [l-w] after [t], listeners gave many more “w” responses than “l” responses, but after [p]. there was no comparable bias toward more “l” than “w” responses. The “w” bias after [t] shows that listeners are trying to identify the sonorant as the one that is phonotactically legal in its context, and the lack of an “l” bias after [p] shows that they are under no similar compulsion to avoid strings that accidentally don’t occur. In short, it is possible to tap experimentally a language user’s knowledge of their grammar in such a way as to distinguish between strongly vs weakly unattested forms.

Disjunctive nonordering?

When I wrote that “[c]rucial nonordering of rules has probably also been explicitly discussed and has possibly also been rejected somewhere in the rule-ordering literature“, what I meant by “crucial nonordering of rules” was a situation in which two rules directly interact (i.e., they are in a potentially feeding or bleeding relationship with respect to at least some subset of forms) but are crucially unordered with respect to each other — perhaps leading to optionality, as crucial nonordering of constraints does in OT.

Bob Kennedy then asks:

Out of curiosity, would disjunctive rule-ordering be an example of non-ordering?

I think not, but I can sort of see how disjunctive ordering might be thought about in this context. This is the topic of this post.

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So I was looking up veridical on Yahoo’s dictionary today and was surprised to see its entry included information regarding syllabication. I thought, funny that a dictionary would misspell a word. For a quick frequency test, I typed “syllabication” into Google to see how many hits there’d be: 157,000, whereas “syllabification” got a mere 11,400. Not a favourable exchange rate. Although many of those 157,000 sites could be dictionary entries.

“Veridical”, incidentally, hits 18,000 sites, while “verdical” is limited to 321.

Anyway the idea was for me to jump back into the fray with the recent posts in the overgeneration and attestation vein, and I’m happy to see Charles Reiss adding to it.

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More on the IPA

A student in my department is working on the use of a particular variant of /t/, usually called fricativized /t/, in the speech of Irish English speaking immigrants in New York. Phonetically, this /t/ is characterized by a coronal closure followed by a particularly noisy sibilant-like release. She asked me what would be the best symbol to transcribe this phoneme with. The only researcher to previously discuss this sound and give it a symbol is Raymond Hickey, who has used a [t] with a carat underneath (i.e. the voicing symbol, only upside down). I asked her why she didn’t just use [ts], and she said that she really didn’t want people mistaking this variant with an affricate.

So my question is, what has the symbol [ts] been used for in the past, and would it be an appropriate transcription for the fricativized Irish English /t/ described above?

The unattestedness/overgeneration "cop-out"

Thanks to Eric for setting up this blog–I think it is a great idea. And of course I am pleased to find out that someone read something I have written! So, I will write a little bit to respond to the useful comments and challenges to some of my work that have been mentioned.

I think that all objections to my discussion of unattestedness and overgeneration ARE justified. We (me, Mark Hale, and others with similar viewpoints) need to provide some results or at least get others to do so, if we want to claim that phonologists don’t need to explain every kind of unattestedness phonologically. I think some of Ohala’s work does this–and in fact the idea was his long before it was ours.

But I think there are some things we can agree on. Continue reading

More on ordering and such

Re-reading just the opening few pages of Odden’s “Ordering” paper (bits of which were originally discussed here) reveals at least two more mischaracterizations of both Optimality Theory and rule-ordering theory. These mischaracterizations would just be funny if it weren’t for the fact that they are being perpetrated by a phonologist who has arguably made a career out of poking holes in theories (or socks). The fact that I have to waste my time (and yours, if you continue reading this) poking holes in the hole-poking is just plain sad.

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Bob Kennedy comments on my rant about Odden on ordering:

My take on the moral of the story is that the overgeneration argument should be put to bed.

This isn’t quite the moral I had in mind (but it may have been the one Odden had in mind). In any case, I’m glad Bob raised this issue. I think it’s a very interesting topic for discussion on this blog.

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Protocol, schmotocol

Bob Kennedy asks about the protocol “for replying to more than one post at once”. Since I started this thing, I guess I should clarify what I think some of the rules for things like this should be.

(The title of this post should tip you off: basically, there are no rules. But read on if you’d like to know my personal opinion on a few matters.)

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The art of the hatchet job

Back in the Spring of 1999, Harvard and MIT hosted a symposium called Phonology 2000. (I’m forced to link here to the program as announced on LINGUIST List because the original website for the symposium appears to be MIA.) A significant group of established phonologists were invited to give talks and to participate in discussions and debates about the current and future direction(s) of the field. The main theme, as you may have guessed, was whether (or to what extent) Optimality Theory is A Bad Thing. Though there was a healthy group of OT-defenders in the audience, not many gave talks — several were invited, mind you, but declined for reasons you can ponder in your own copious spare time.

One of the talks struck a particular chord with me, for reasons I discuss in this post. (If you’re not in the mood for a rant, you may want to skip this.)

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what is laboratory phonology?

I have been wondering for some time what people who study sound think “laboratory phonology” is? In particular, I’d like to hear people’s views on what they think its relationships are to phonetics and to whatever phonology is not laboratory phonology.

Re: More vowel fragments

To follow up on the posts about vowel fragments in the Iraqi woman’s speech…

It seems to me that her pronunciation of “street” is a nice illustration (all in one word!) of the difference between vowel epenthesis and vowel intrusion, a distinction that Nancy Hall argues for at length in her dissertation. My understanding of her work is that while the former arises for reasons having to do with syllable structure, the latter is motivated as a way to ensure perceptibility/recoverability of consonant clusters. Vowel intrusion is invisible to the phonology inasmuch as it fails to interact with processes that operate on higher-level prosodic structure.

Two examples of this invisibility come from Spanish. Continue reading

More vowel fragments

On listening to this woman’s two pronunciations of “street” and inspecting the waveforms and spectrograms, it seems that the two vocoids are plainly different. The one between the [s] and the [t] is much longer and has a reasonably clear quality, close to barred i, i.e. backer than cap I, as one of the previous posters noted. The one between the [t] and the tap [r] is much briefer, indistinct in quality and indeed hard even to detect by ear. These differences suggest that the first is actually intended, and not a product of minimal overlap between the [s] and [t], while the second is a mere byproduct of the lack of overlap between the [t] and the tap.

Speak flatly, please

The Washington Post this week published an article entitled “Accent on Higher TV Ratings” about how the Spanish-language television network Telemundo has been gaining on its rival Univision by, among other things, teaching “its actors — whether they hail from Cuba, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru or Chile — to speak like Mexicans. Mexican television news anchors, to be precise.”

(This article came to my attention via LINGUIST List.)

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Re: More vowel fragments

I knew this site would suck me in sooner or later. So here goes onehanded typing with a baby in the other hand..this won’t be a long post.

Lisa is right that Iraqi speakers have prothesis with initial sC clusters, but according to Broselow’s 1983 article, sCC clusters are adapted as siCC, so she gives the example [sitrit] for ‘street’. She relates this to the general rule of three-consonant cluster epenthesis in Iraqi of O –> i / C _ CC. Under this scenario, the first vowel is truly epenthetic, present for syllabification reasons, but the second (which Broselow does not transcribe in her examples) must be one of those transitional vocoids. Hence the length difference?

Broselow, Ellen (1983). Nonobvious transfer: on predicting epenthesis errors. In S. Gass & L. Selinker (eds.) Language Transfer in Language Learning, 269-280. Rawley, MA: Newbury House.

Re: More vowel fragments

My favorite topic, vowel insertion in second language speech. Thanks for pointing this tidbit out Eric!

The first thing I’d like to say is that I’m very surprised that the Iraqi woman epenthesized instead of prothesizing. As far as I know, Broselow (1987) and others (Heidi Fleischhacker? I don’t have her paper here) have shown that while Egyptian Arabic speakers often epenthesize into English loanwords with initial /s/-clusters, Iraqi speakers usually prothesize. Examples (from Broselow, and see these authors for more on the epenthesis vs. prothesis distinction):

[isnoo] ‘snow’
[istadi] ‘study’

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Re: Speaking like a Maine-ah

Well, I wanted to add to Kie’s and Lisa’s discussion of the Maine accent, but my unicode-ready machine has not yet arrived and I’m using an old home PC. So, I’ll have to so without special characters.

Anyway, I enjoyed Kie’s careful transcription of the pre-orthographic-/r/ vowels (leftover vowels?) especially since (anecdotally anyway) I have not often seen this degree of description for non-rhotic American dialects. It made me think of several things to share:

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Re: Speaking like a Maine-ah

In reply to Lisa’s post about Maine phonology/phonetics:

I’m no dialectologist, and I know little about other North New England dialects, but since my father’s a second-generation Mainer (or “Maineac,” as he insists) and the only one of his family to move out of the state, I’ve had a lot of exposure to the speech of Penobscot County. I often had difficulty understanding my cousins and remember well a game of Operation that was stalled by my failure to recognize “charley horse.”

What has always struck me as most distinctive about Maine phonology/phonetics is the quality of stressed vowels followed by unpronounced orthographic <r>s. The vowel is much more different from the Standard American English vowel than it is in, say, Boston. For example (all vowels approximate!):

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Gone public

Mark Liberman at Language Log has some nice words to say today about phonoloblog. It’s been just two days since I announced the existence of phonoloblog on Language Log, and already the number of site visits has jumped from a small handful a day (about 70% of them by yours truly) to an average of 66 a day (as of this writing). This is nowhere near Language Log’s current average of 1,382 site visits a day and we’ll probably never really catch up, but it’s a promising leap.

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Re: Spanish taps at the DNC

Eric, thanks for setting up the phonoloblog! It’s a great way to make data available or make use of data that’s already available on the web.

To follow up on your posting about Bill Richardson’s pronunciation of the word patriota in his recent speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convetion, I went to NPR’s website and found the streaming audio broadcast. (It’s listed under the first hour on their schedule for Wed. July 28, but it’s actually part of the link to the second hour, thanks to Al Sharpton, I guess!) I’ve isolated the paragraph that he delivered in Spanish, as well as the specific phrase that contains the word of interest and, for purposes of comparison, the word crece:

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Spanish taps at the DNC

Earlier today I was listening to live coverage of the Democratic National Convention on my local public radio station. At the beginning of his speech, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico addressed his fellow Hispanic Americans with a few words in Spanish. I did a double-take when I thought I heard him pronounce the word patriota (‘patriot’, though Richardson was using it attributively to describe the Hispanic American community) as [paˈtɾota] rather than [paˈtɾjota] (from underlying /patri+ot+a/). My immediate thought was that this was a typical example of Chicano Spanish hiatus resolution (Hutchinson 1974, Reyes 1976), but no — the underlying high vowel is expected to be glided before /o/ in most varieties of Spanish, including Chicano varieties. But then I remembered something about the articulation of Spanish taps.

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Re Publish data

Thanks, Eric, for setting this up.

This is partly a test and partly a followup to Paul de Lacy’s query about data availability.

I’ve been facing a similar issue lately and think the means of addressing it depends on the medium of the data. For transcribed data, it may be pretty simple to make it available online, but not for audio or video.
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Publish Primary Data?

Thanks to Eric for setting up this blog.

I went to a talk at the Manchester Phonology Conference, and the speaker handed out a CD with all the data he’d elicited that related to the talk. I thought it was a great idea. Of course, putting it on the web would be even better. So:

Should it be standard practice to make the primary data that we refer to in publications publicly available?

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Anteriority assimilation in English

In a paper I’m currently working on, I propose a new analysis of the past tense and plural suffix alternations in English. I think that the analysis is interesting for a variety of reasons, but for the purposes of this post I’d like to focus on a particular prediction that the analysis makes and that I have preliminarily found to be correct (as I outline below). As far as I know, this prediction is a novel one; I hope that readers of this blog will either confirm or rectify my (mis)perception in this regard.

The prediction is that with verb stems ending in a postalveolar sibilant (e.g., mash, match, budge), the past tense suffix will also be postalveolar — i.e., it will assimilate in terms of the coronal subplace of articulation. At first I was concerned about this prediction, but after asking a few other native speakers about it I was reassured that the prediction was probably correct.

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Phonetic transcription


If the first line of this post is not recognizable, then you probably have a browser (or a machine) that doesn’t properly display extended ASCII Unicode characters. This may be a problem for this blog, since we will probably often need to use phonetic transcription. I have very little experience with this; the html ASCII character codes for this post’s title were stolen from Geoff Pullum‘s website. The page is not organized in a way that is particularly useful for phonetic transcription (nor was it meant to be), but Geoff (or someone) was kind enough to label where the nonstandard characters, the IPA characters, and the Greek, etc. characters start.

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