Category Archives: Phonology

Prickett in Phonology

Brandon Prickett has just published “Learning biases in opaque interactions” in the latest issue of Phonology. Congratulations Brandon!

This study uses an artificial language learning experiment and computational modelling to test Kiparsky’s claims about Maximal Utilisation and Transparency biases in phonological acquisition. A Maximal Utilisation bias would prefer phonological patterns in which all rules are maximally utilised, and a Transparency bias would prefer patterns that are not opaque. Results from the experiment suggest that these biases affect the learnability of specific parts of a language, with Maximal Utilisation affecting the acquisition of individual rules, and Transparency affecting the acquisition of rule orderings. Two models were used to simulate the experiment: an expectation-driven Harmonic Serialism learner and a sequence-to-sequence neural network. The results from these simulations show that both models’ learning is affected by these biases, suggesting that the biases emerge from the learning process rather than any explicit structure built into the model.

Yu in Taiwan for Spring 2020 sabbatical

Faculty member Kristine Yu will be on sabbatical and conducting research supported by a grant from Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology during the Spring 2020 semester. She’ll be hosted by and collaborating with faculty at the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Chiao Tung University in Hsinchu, including Sang-Im Lee-Kim (Lecturer at UMass, 2014-2015) and Ho-hsien Pan.

UMass at RecPhon 2019

Many UMass folks past and present were at RecPhon 2019: Recursivity
in phonology below and above the word, 21-22 November 2019, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra. A number of former UMass visitors were co-organizers: Eulàlia Bonet, Joan Mascaró, Francesc Torres-Tamarit.

Invited speakers and UMass alumni Junko Ito and Armin Mester presented Recursivity in phonology below the word, while invited speaker and UMass alumna Emily Elfner presented Match Theory and Recursion below and above the word: Evidence from Tlingit. Faculty member Kristine Yu presented Computational perspectives on phonological constituency and recursion and graduate student Leland Kusmer presented Minimal prosodic recursion in Khoekhoegowab. Former visitor Gorka Elordieta presented joint work with emeritus faculty member Lisa Selkirk: Phrasing unaccented words in a recursive prosodic structure in Basque.

UMass folks at RecPhon 2019

Eulàlia Bonet, Armin Mester, Emily Elfner, Junko Ito, Kristine Yu, Leland Kusmer, Gorka Elordieta, Joan Mascaró

UMass folks at RecPhon 2019

Francesc Torres-Tamarit, Emily Elfner, Junko Ito, Armin Mester, Kristine Yu, Leland Kusmer, Gorka Elordieta

SENSUS at UMass, April 18-19, 2020

UMass is hosting “Sensus: Constructing meaning in Romance” on April 18-19, 2020. This is a conference on the formal semantics and pragmatics of Romance languages.

Areas: theoretical semantics and pragmatics and their interfaces with other domains, experimental methodologies, fieldwork, the study of variation and computational approaches

Venue: Integrative Learning Center at UMass Amherst (the ILC is a fully accessible building)

Invited speakers:

Luis Alonso-Ovalle
(McGill University)

Mariapaola D’Imperio
(Rutgers University)

Donka Farkas
(UC, Santa Cruz)

Organizers: Ana Arregui, María Biezma, Vincent Homer and Deniz Özyıldız

Event sponsored by the Department of Linguistics and the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures of UMass Amherst

Contact us at

Details can be found here:

Stanton colloquium Friday Nov 15 at 3:30

Juliet Stanton, New York University, will present “Learning Complex Segments” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday Nov 15. An abstract follows. All are welcome!
Languages differ in the status of sequences such as [mb, kp, ts]: they can pattern as complex segments or as clusters of simple consonants. We ask what evidence learners use to figure out which representations their languages motivate. We present an implemented computational model that starts with simple consonants only, and builds more complex representations by tracking statistical distributions of consonant sequences. We demonstrate that this strategy is successful in a wide range of cases, both in languages that supply clear phonotactic arguments for complex segments and in languages where the evidence is less clear. We then turn to the typological parallels between complex segments and consonant clusters: both tend to be limited in size and composition. We suggest that our approach allows the parallels to be reconciled. Finally, we compare our model with alternatives: learning complex segments from phonotactics and from phonetics.

Graf colloquium Friday Nov 8 at 3:30

Thomas Graf, Stony Brook University, will present “Subregular linguistics for linguists” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday Nov 8. An abstract follows. All are welcome!



Drawing from computational work that is known as the subregular program, I will argue against two received views in linguistics: “phonology and syntax are very different’ and “subcategorization is a solved problem”.

  1. Cognitive parallelism
    Subregular notions of complexity can be applied to strings as well as trees. Doing so reveals that phonology and syntax are remarkably similar (and those parallels even extend into morphology and semantics). For instance, islands and blocking effects are instances of the same computational mechanism.
  2. Subcategorization
    Subcategorization (or c-selection) is rarely studied by linguists, but it is actually a source of tremendous overgeneration. Once again subregular notions of complexity can be used to address this problem. This isn’t just a mathematical exercise, but makes concrete empirical predictions about the nature of category systems, subcategorization, the status of empty heads, the DP-analysis, DM-style roots, and once again highlights parallels to phonology.

The general upshot is that subregular concepts, despite their computational origin, are intuitive and linguistically fertile: they address conceptual issues, bridge gaps between linguistic subfields, and make concrete empirical predictions. Subregular linguistics is just linguistics with some computational flavor sprinkled on top.

Disclaimer: This talk is 100% formula-free.

McPherson colloquium Friday Nov 1 at 3:30

Laura McPherson, Dartmouth College, will present “Decoding surrogate speech: Phonetic and phonemic levels in musical surrogate languages” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Fri. Nov 1. An abstract follows. All are welcome!


Many cultures around the world have traditions of musical surrogate speech, i.e.communication using a musical instrument to encode linguistic structure. Stern (1957) identifies two major types of systems, so-called “abridging” systems that represent elements of phonemic structure and “lexical ideogram” systems that represent concepts directly. This talk focuses on the former. Drawing on case studies from the literature and original fieldwork, I demonstrate that decoding an abridging system means determining not only what contrasts are encoded but also at what level. Remarkably, in many systems, phonemic structure is not encoded uniformly. In the West African Sambla balafon system, for instance, tone is encoded at a morphophonemic level, eschewing postlexical processes common in the spoken language, but rhythmic encoding shows evidence of surface phonetic gradience. A similar situation holds for the Amazonian Bora drumming system, with phonemic encoding of the two tone levels but a tight correlation between interstrike duration and spoken V-to-V intervals. Languages with surrogate systems on more than one instrument offer an opportunity to determine which factors influence how a contrast will be encoded. Yòrubá, for instance, can be encoded on at least two types of drums, the tension drum (“talking drum”) dùndún and a double-headed barrel drum ensemble known as bàtá. The dùndún encodes tone at a surface level, while the bàtá encodes less phonetic detail for tone but encodes more information about vowel quality. In this talk, I show how musical surrogate languages reflect the practitioner’s nuanced understanding of their language’s sound system and offer a preliminary account of how linguistic, instrumental, and cultural constraints shape surrogate encoding.

Phonology/Phonetics/Psycholinguistics Guru: Matt Goldrick

This week (October 21-25) we will have a special visitor in the department, a Phonology/Phonetics/Psycholinguistics Guru, Matt Goldrick! Matt will be visiting the department all week. He will be giving two tutorials and a general talk (see below for schedule). Everyone in the department and beyond is welcome to attend all of these events.  The schedule is rather complicated so please read it carefully – all events are scheduled to take place in N400 on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week. Both tutorials are about Gradient Symbolic Representations and involve some hands-on software applications – one is focused on Phonology and the other on Processing. The talk is intended to be a general talk for the whole department. Matt is also available for individual meetings while he is here – please contact him directly about that.


Talk – “The acoustic effects of blended representations: co-production”
Tuesday 1:30-2:30

Phonology Tutorial
Gradient Harmonic Grammar (gradient underlying representations and learning models for them)
Instructions: Bring a laptop that can access the internet; you’ll be using Google Sheets to aid in calculations of harmony for candidate sets.

Monday 1:15-2:30
Wednesday 12:30-2

Psycholinguistics Tutorial
Gradient Symbolic Processing (connectionist implementations of GSR and software for generation, learning, and parsing of CFGs)

Instructions: Bring a laptop with jupyter installed ( You’ll need an environment with python 3, and you should have these libraries installed: numpy, matplotlib, pickle, re.
Monday 4-5:30
Wednesday 4-5:30

UMass linguists and alumni at AMP 2019

UMass was well represented at the Annual Meetings on Phonology (AMP) at Stony Brook University, Oct 11-13. Several current students gave presentations:

  • Ivy Hauser presented “Coarticulation with alveopalatal sibilants in Mandarin and Polish: Phonetics or phonology?”
  • Leland Kusmer presented “Khoekhoegowab tone sandhi and extended projections”
  • Max Nelson presented “Learning and generalizing phonotactics with recurrent neural networks”
  • Brandon Prickett presented “Unconstrained Variables Oversimplify Phonotactic Learning”

Presentations by alumni included:

  • Shigeto Kawahara (PhD 2007) presented “Do Japanese speakers always prosodically group wh-elements and their licenser? Implications for Richards’ (2010) theory of wh-movement” with Jason Shaw (Yale University) and Shinichiro Ishihara (Lund University)
  • Aleksei Nazarov (PhD 2016) presented “Bedouin Arabic multiple opacity with indexed constraints in Parallel OT”
  • Maria Gouskova (PhD 2003) presented “Clusters or complex segments? A learnability approach” with Juliet Stanton (New York University).

Among the organizers were Michael Becker (PhD 2009) and Ellen Broselow (PhD 1976).

UMass at NWAV 48

UMass linguistics has been at NWAV 48 at the University of Oregon this weekend!

Faculty members Lisa Green, Kristine Yu, grad students Ayana Whitmal, Anissa Neal, and Deniz Özyıldız, and collaborator Alejna Brugos from Boston University presented
a talk: The prosody and meaning of BIN constructions in African American English.

Our Fulbright scholar Kamil Kazmierski from Adam Mickiewicz University presented two posters: one with his collaborator Michaela Hejná from Aarhus University on preaspiration in American English, as well as another one with his university colleague Krzysztof Urbanek on Variability in word-final /r/-vocalization in Providence: Evidence from Crimetown.

Here’s Kamil and his collaborator Michaela.

Our recent PhD recipient Tracy Conner, currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at UC Santa Barbara, co-organized A workshop for inclusion in sociocultural linguistics with her UC Santa Barbara colleagues.

And alum Elliot Moreton (Professor, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill) gave a talk on Abstract factors in English diphthong raising in a Mississippi dialect.