Tag Archives: Phonology
6/27 Janet Pierrehumbert (Sapir Professor): “Lexical Variability”


Janet Pierrehumbert, Northwestern University
2013 Linguistic Institute’s Edward Sapir Professor
Thursday, June 27, 2013 7:00 pm
Askwith Auditorium, Lorch Hall
Reception to follow


Read Abstract

Words are the nexus of the relation between form and meaning in language, and a rich lexicon is a hallmark of the intelligence of the human species. Words support cooperation amongst people by enabling them to share complex information about other times and places, abstract ideas, and emotions and social judgments. These facts motivate a large and fruitful body of research on how  shared vocabularies arise in linguistic communities, and how children acquire the vocabulary of the language spoken around them.  This emphasis on lexical convergence, however,  abstracts away from significant differences across speakers  in the total inventory of words, their abstract representations, their detailed phonetics,  and their patterns of use in context.  Equally,  it abstracts away from variation across words in who knows them, when and where they are used, and how they are pronounced. It  begs the question of  how the vocabularies of languages keep changing even after  a shared norm is in place.

This talk will document an assortment of cases of lexical variability, which touch on levels of linguistic representation from phonetics to pragmatics.  All  involve the interaction of cognitive and social factors in learning, remembering, and producing words. I will discuss these cases in the context of computational models of language acquisition and change.  I conclude by  developing a connection between synchronic variation and the robustness and  adaptability of language over time.

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7/14 How the Brain Accommodates Variability in Linguistic Representations

July 14, 2013
Aud C, Angell Hall

Organizer Contact: T. Florian Jaeger (fjaeger@bcs.rochester.edu)

Click here for workshop website.

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The Phonological Mind

Iris Berent – Northeastern University
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 1:30-3:20 pm
2325 Mason Hall

See Course Description

All human languages construct words from meaningless elements—either speech sounds (in spoken languages) or manual gestures (in signed linguistic systems).  Not only are phonological patterns evident in every known human language, but they even emerge anew, in the systems generated spontaneously in the homes of deaf signers and in newly emerging languages.  Why do humans engage in phonological patterning? And what mechanisms support our capacity to extend our phonological reflexes to novel forms?

This course addresses these questions from a broad interdisciplinary perspective. We consider evidence from diverse sources, ranging from linguistic analysis to experimental studies of humans, comparative animal work, neurological evidence, genetic studies and computational simulations of language evolution. Select issues include:

  • Specialization and innateness: What is an innate specialized cognitive system?

  • Generalizations: What computational mechanisms support phonological generalizations? Do they exhibit the capacity for discrete infinity?

  • Design. Are there constraints on the design of phonological systems—actual and potential? What is the nature of such restrictions: do they concern language, broadly, or speech, specifically?

  • Hardware: What genes and brain “hardware” regulate the phonological system? Is this hardware specialized for language?

  • Ontogeny: Are some phonological precursors present at birth?

  • Phylogeny: What components of the phonological mind are shared with our evolutionary ancestors? How did the human capacity for phonological patterning evolve?

  • Phonological technologies. Unlike language, reading and writing are “linguistic technologies” that emerge (sometimes spontaneously) on the basis of linguistic principles. Why is reading based on phonology? And why do reading disorders impair speech perception?