GPSS/Linguistics Colloquium 05/31/13 – Bruce Hayes

Bruce HayesSaltation in Phonology
Bruce Hayes
UCLA, Department of Linguistics

Friday, May 31, 2013
3:30 – 5:00 p.m.
MGH 241

Phonological saltation occurs when one sound is converted to another, leaping over a third sound. Thus in Campidanian Sardinian the voiceless stop [p], when it occurs between two vowels, is pronounced as [?] (voiced fricative), leaping over invariant [b], a voiced stop. It appears that saltation is rare and arises only through historical accidents like borrowing or hypercorrection. Saltation has also proven to be hard to learn, as demonstrated in recent experiments by James White using the artificial language learning paradigm.

To explain why saltation is disfavored, I invoke the “P-map” theory of Donca Steriade, which embodies language learners’ phonetically-based expectations about phonological alternation, as well as the maxent-based learning theory of Colin Wilson, which mathematically models how biases such as the P-map influence learning. As I will show, this approach predicts the difficulty of saltation and matches well to White’s experimental data. The overall theme is that classical questions in language learning – notably, how the language faculty interacts with the input data – can now be addressed in concrete mathematical terms.

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