UMass Sesquicentennial

751 Topics in Phonology (3 units)

Spring 2012


M 2:30 - 5:15 - South College 301


Anne Pycha []

John Kingston []


Advanced Seminar in Phonology: topics vary by semester. Topic TBA.
This course is typically a cooperative venture, with faculty, students, and visitors contributing the result of their research.

Spring 2012 Topic:

Variability is one of the principal barriers to developing a comprehensive theory of phonetics and phonology. Speakers' articulations vary continuously in myriad ways, and as a result so do the acoustics of the speech sounds they produce and listeners' perceptual responses. This variability exceeds what current models of phonological grammars can accommodate to an extent that some researchers now argue that entirely different models are required of speakers' and listeners' knowledge of the phonic resources of their native language and its implementation in speech production and perception. Because some (much) of this variation serves social as well as or instead of narrowly linguistic purposes, the messages it conveys have been argued not be handled easily by models that treat speakers' and listeners' phonetic behavior as merely the implementation of phonological representations. Moreover, what appear to be properties that vary with the circumstances in which a message was uttered are apparently stored together with that message's content for a considerable period of time. These two facts indicate that speakers rarely try to convey just a linguistic message, and listeners don't attempt to separate the linguistic message from the speech event's other content. We obviously allude here to exemplar models and their ilk. It thus appears that variability cannot be demoted to a fact about performance that obscures the speaker's and listener's competence, and understanding its nature and origins is vital to understanding how language is used synchronically, how sounds are distributed and how they pattern across languages, and how sound systems change over time. In this course, we will confront the theoretical and empirical challenges entailed by variability through close examination of studies of phonetic and phonological variation, focusing on those that examine its social as well as its linguistic sources, e.g. speaker gender, dialect, etc. as well as contrast preservation, neighborhood density, etc., and proposals that link synchronic variation to patterns of diachronic change.