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The sources of phonological markedness

Kathryn Gilbert Flack, University of Massachusetts Amherst


A great deal of current work in phonology discusses the functional grounding of phonological patterns. This dissertation proposes that functional factors can motivate phonological constraints in two ways. ‘Functionally grounded’ constraints are induced from learners' immediate linguistic experience. ‘Formally grounded’ constraints generalize beyond literal functional facts; as learners do not have direct evidence for these constraints, they must be innate. As this proposal distinguishes between constraints which are and are not induced, questions about how learners induce constraints are also central. The dissertation describes a computational model in which virtual learners hear acoustically realistic segments, learn to identify these segments in a realistic way, and induce attested phonotactic constraints from this experience. Chapter 1 gives an overview of the proposed distinction between functionally and formally grounded constraints. Chapter 2 explores a novel class of functionally grounded constraints which impose parallel phonotactic restrictions on the edges of all prosodic domains. Restrictions on domain-initial η, ?, and h are discussed in particular detail. While these tend to reflect perceptual facts, individual constraints on marked domain-initial onsets cannot all be induced from learners' perceptual experience. For this reason, these domain-edge constraint schemata and all constraints belonging to the schemata are formally grounded. Chapters 3 and 4 turn to functionally grounded constraints. The empirical focus is a restriction on word-initial p found in languages including Cajonos Zapotec, Ibibio, and Moroccan Arabic. Chapter 3 presents experimental results showing that initial p is uniquely perceptually difficult and uniquely acoustically similar to initial b. These phonetic facts are taken to be the basis for initial p's phonological markedness. In order to show that the constraint *#P can be consistently induced by all learners, chapter 4 describes a computational model based on the acoustic and perceptual data collected in these experiments. Virtual learners are exposed to either pseudo-French, where word initial p is attested, or pseudo-Cajonos Zapotec, where there is no initial p. With only very conservative assumptions about the nature of learners' perceptual experience, the model consistently induces the constraint *# P from realistic input. Chapter 5 concludes, emphasizing the importance of testing these proposals empirically.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Flack, Kathryn Gilbert, "The sources of phonological markedness" (2007). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3289221.