Archive for May, 2010

Bochnak awarded the Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowship

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Ryan Bochnak was awarded the Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowship, which is a fellowship funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is “designated to support the very best graduate students in the second half of their graduate program at the University”. Way to go, Ryan!

Staraki and Straughn awarded dissertation-year fellowships

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Eleni Staraki has been awarded a Mellon Dissertation Fellowship and Chris Straughn is receiving the Whiting Fellowship. Congratulations, Eleni and Chris!

Job news: Nikki Adams to Maryland

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Nikki Adams has accepted the position of Research Scientist at the Center for Advanced Study of Language at the University of Maryland. Congratulations, Nikki!

NSF grant to Yu

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Alan Yu has been awarded a three-year National Science Foundation grant. The title of the project is Understanding Perceptual Compensation in Sound Change.

Talk by McDonough on May 27

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Departmental Colloquium

Documentation of tone in the Mackenzie Basin Dene languages

Joyce McDonough
University of Rochester

Cobb 201

As part of a study of the phonetics of the Dene languages, this talk examines the realization of tone in several Athabaskan, or Dene (as speakers prefer) languages in the Mackenzie Basin area of Canada, an important group of language communities and dialects for which little instrumental phonetic documentation has been available. The Dene languages are polysynthetic; words are multisyllabic, and these languages are considered to be among the most morphologically complex known to us. Many of these languages have contrastive tone. Despite their enormous spread, the languages are phonetically and morphologically conservative, resisting ‘exotic influence’ (Sapir 1945), they share a surprisingly consistent phonemic inventory, phonetic realization patterns and morphological structure, thus providing a ground of stability in which to examine tonal variation.

There are several reasons why tone in this group is interesting. First, these inventories are heavily obstruent, the stop series include ejectives and glottal stops, the sonorant consonants are limited. Thus pitch contours are broken up by often robust (in duration and intensity) stops and fricatives; tonal contours are systematically disturbed in ways that they are not in other tone language groups. Second, tone is paradigmatic rather than lexical, broadly marking inflectional, morphological and lexical categories. Third, tonogenesis arguably resulted from the incorporation of glottal suffixes into the word-final stem, but produced both H and L marked tone language communities (Sapir, 1925; Li, 1930, 1933; Leer, 1979, 1999; de Ruse, 2005; Krauss, 2005; Kingston 2005). Thus the documentation of this type tone reversal within a closely related group with near identical tonongenesis patterns is important to theories of tone and language change. Fourth, despite the diachronic consistency in their grammars and lexicons, a great deal of prosodic variation has been observed across the group. Typologies include metrical stress, pitch accent and non-tone systems. This has not been instrumentally documented, which is essential to the understanding and description of prosodic variation and discourse related intonation patterns across these language communities and theoretical constructions based on this data.

In this talk, we examine tone from 4 communities in the Mackenzie Basin group, with examples of both H and L tone-marked languages (tone reversal), in an instrumental analysis of fieldwork data, in a preliminary analysis of the tone data. The broad goal is to provide a documentation of the pitch typology and variation in this area and its relationship to the theories of Athabaskan tonogenesis, with an instrumental analysis of pitch patterns including pitch range, tone bearing units, peak/valley alignment, tone distribution, and patterns in tone realization between the morphological categories (pre-stem (inflectional) versus stem (content) domains (McDonough 1999, 2003; Gessner, 2005; Kingston, 2005.))

This talk will also outline the issues related to the collection and analysis of fieldwork data from small speech communities and/or endangered language communities, and the generalizations that can be drawn from this type data.

Talk by Clayards on May 7

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Workshop on Language, Cognition, and Computation

The role of phonetic detail, auditory processing and language experience in the perception of assimilated speech

(Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill)

Friday, May 7 at 3:30pm, in Harper 130

The speech signal is notoriously variable and complex. Not only do listeners cope well with this variability and complexity, they display exquisite sensitivity to the co-occurrence and predictability of fine grained aspects of the speech signal. In this talk I will discuss one such example – place assimilation at word onset and offsets and listeners’ abilities to make use of this information (compensation). Models of spoken-word recognition differ on whether compensation for assimilatory changes is a knowledge-driven, language-specific phenomenon or relies more on general auditory processing mechanisms. Both English and French exhibit some assimilation of sibilants (e.g., /s/ becomes like /S/ in “dress shop”), but they differ in the strength and directionality of these shifts. We taught English and French participants words that began or ended with /s/ or /S/ consonants. After training, participants were presented with the novel words embedded in native-language sentences that could engender assimilation. Sentences were uttered by both French and English speakers and used a continuum of sibilant sounds between the two phonemic endpoints. Listeners’ perceptions of the potential assimilations were examined using a visual-world eyetracking paradigm in which the listener clicked on a picture matching the novel word. The results suggest that French and English participants treated these assimilatory sequences differently. Furthermore, there was evidence for low level auditory processing in cases with weak or no assimilation patterns in the language (/S/-/s/ sequences in both languages) as well as knowledge driven compensation in response to patterns of strong assimilation in the language (/s/-/S/ in English).

Talk by Wagner on May 6

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Departmental Colloquium

Information Structure Effects on Prosody: English vs. French

Michael Wagner
McGill University

Cobb 201
2:30-4pm *NOTE NEW TIME*

Germanic and Romance languages differ in how prosody is affected by information structure.  Ladd (2008), e.g., observes contrasts between English and Italian that reveal differences in how argument structure and  information structure affect prosody. These differences seem to generalize to other Romance and Germanic languages (see Swerts et al. 2002, Swerts 2007 for experimental evidence on Dutch, Italian, and Romanian). Using evidence (mainly from English and French), this talk explores the semantic, syntactic, and phonological underpinnings of the prosodic differences. The observed patterns suggest a connection between seemingly unrelated facts, e.g., the stresslessness of indefinite pronouns such as ‘something’ and contrastive focus; they reveal that both semantic and phonological givenness play a role in focus marking, as do constraints on syntactic movement; they cast doubt on claims of a universal nuclear stress (Cinque 1993); and finally, they have repercussions in sometimes unexpected ways, e.g., they influence what types of rhyme are considered artistic in poetry.

Alumni update: Elaine and Alex Francis

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

A huge congratulation to Elaine J. Francis (Ph.D. 1999), who has recently been promoted to associate professor with tenure at Purdue University in Indiana, where she teaches in the English Department and the graduate Linguistics Program.   For her 1999 dissertation Variation within Lexical Categories, she worked with advisor Salikoko Mufwene and committee members Amy Dahlstrom, Jim McCawley, and Jerry Sadock.  Elaine’s husband, Alex Francis (Ph.D. 1999), yet another Chicago alum, received tenure at Purdue in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences in 2008.  While at Chicago, Alex worked with co-advisors Howard Nusbaum and Karen Landahl. Elaine and Alex live in West Lafayette, Indiana, with their two young sons, William and Robert. A hearty congratulation to both Elaine and Alex for all their successes!

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