Category Archives: Discussion topic

The representation of women in phonological discussion: Data from SCAMP 2016

From Stephanie Shih 
Here is the gender report from the recent meeting of California phonologists in SoCal (SCAMP), run by Eric Bakovic at UCSD, 8-9 April 2016. I’m posting it here in order to foster continuing discussion on the representation of women in phonological discussion: see original post by Joe Pater, with a great comments section, here:

The conference was a regional one, with a friendly crowd and relatively informal atmosphere, and it was fairly gender balanced when I sampled the attendees towards the end of Day 1. (The missing data point is my own talk, for which I forgot to take down Q&A notes.)

There was at least one interesting observation to note. We started out with a pretty decent gender balance in the Q&A’s, with female question askers going first in both of the first two talks. Then, before the third talk, there was an announcement that explicitly asked graduate students to ask questions. I think many of the faculty took this to mean that we should allow graduate students to ask the first questions before jumping in. While this did definitely increase graduate student participation, which is a good thing, it has an interesting unintended consequence: the gender of the question askers started to skew towards male. In fact, throughout the entire conference, not a single female graduate student asked a question.

I suspect this effect might be due in part to reasons discussed before, in Joe’s post and comments, which is that women–especially young female academics–want to make certain that they have a really good question before asking, which takes longer and so they are less comfortable going first. At the beginning of the second day of talks, I specifically approached a dissertation-stage female graduate student to encourage her to ask questions, and she confirmed this anxiety.

Suggestions for how one might encourage more gender balance in graduate student questions would be greatly appreciated. I tried to take the direct approach in asking a specific student to participate, thinking that personal encouragement would boost confidence in the student, but I worry that in fact my intervention hurt rather than helped the situation (e.g., promoted more anxiety). I think it may also be good for students to see other female participants asking questions, but most of the female faculty (myself included) held back to allow graduate students to ask questions–seems like it’s a delicate balance to find.

[One final observation, from Eric Bakovic upon seeing this data is that “women speakers were overwhelmingly questioned by males, while questions for male speakers appear more balanced.”] Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

What’s Harmony?

From Joe Pater (

Paul Smolensky explains the roots of the term “Harmony” in Harmony Theory (and Harmonic Grammar and Optimality Theory) in statistical physics (and vowel harmony):

Smolensky mentions a sign change from the statistical physics formulation, which leads to a discussion of the reason for the original polarity with Mark Johnson, culminating in some speculation about potential cognitive interpretations of T.

Comments can be added to the original post.


Discussion: Paper review guidelines

From Joe Pater (

Bruce Hayes has agreed to let me post the following draft review guidelines he came up with a little while ago (though see his caveat below). I thought that putting these in the public domain might inspire reviewers to better practices, and perhaps also inspire journals to provide explicit guidance of this sort to their reviewers. I’d be interested to know about other sorts of advice that could be usefully given, and if there are existing explicit guidelines that people know of.

Dear Joe,
Sure, feel free to circulate what I wrote.  Looking it over now, I realize it is far too blunt and bullying to serve as an actual “Instructions for Referees” document and I hope people will read it instead as a spontaneous cri du coeur from an experienced/beleaguered Associate Editor.


1. Please try to have your review completed within one month. If you anticipate your review taking longer, please contact the editor and obtain her approval first.

2. Your review should include both evaluative comments and a firm editorial recommendation.  The latter may range from “accept without change” to “reject without invitation to resubmit”.  The widely-employed intermediate recommendation, “revise and resubmit”, is too vague if it is not augmented with appropriate comments. Specifically, you can say what specific changes would need to be successfully implemented in order for the paper to become publishable. You can also say whether it is acceptable to you not to review the revised version; i.e. whether you want simply to trust the author to make the appropriate changes.

Do not use “revise and resubmit” merely as a euphemism, intended to be kindly; while a recommendation for outright rejection may seem harsher, it is likely to spare many people unnecessary work. It may also be more helpful for the journal’s goals of enforcing high scholarly standards.

3. A review can achieve greater credibility if it begins with a summary of the paper’s main point; this helps establish that the reviewer understands the paper he is reviewing.

4. Review the paper in its own terms.  If it relies on a theoretical framework that has attracted publication and attention, then you should assume that it is acceptable for this framework to be used; do not use the review process as an arena for framework-warring.  There is usually plenty to say about the quality of the evidence and reasoning keeping within the general assumptions of the paper.

5. Bear in mind that very long reviews can be problematic. They certainly generate extra work for authors and editors, and in the long run they change expectations about what is required of reviewers, so that reviewing becomes a heavy burden and it is difficult for editors to find volunteer reviewers. Long reviews are also likely to result in very long revised papers, crammed with passages that lack the authors’ own conviction but are intended to mollify skeptical  reviewers. You may wish to read over your completed review before submitting it, trimming back items that on reconsideration seem unlikely to result in improvement.

6. It goes without saying that a review should maintain a high degree of professionalism and courtesy to the author. Rereading and editing your review before submission with this in mind can be helpful.

7. If you like to note typos and grammatical infelicities, feel free to put them at the end of your report.  However, it is not required that you do this, and if it delays the completion of your review you should consider omitting this task.


Discussion: Sour Grapes and Use it or Lose It

From Joe Pater (

I’d like to ask whether anyone knows of examples of two apparently unattested phonological patterns, and also raise the issue of what their unattestedness means for accounts of unbounded feature spreading.

The better-known of the two is the Sour Grapes pattern, a gap brought to our attention by Eric Bakovic, John McCarthy and Colin Wilson. It has the following description: spread a feature unboundedly, unless there is a blocking segment in the potential span, in which case don’t spread at all. I had never seen a case like this, until I read Adam Jardine’s recent paper which points to Bickmore and Kula’s work on Copperbelt Bemba, which seems to display a Sour Grapes effect (in tonal spreading).

The less well known gap is what Kevin Mullin and I are calling the “Use it or Lose it” pattern: spread a marked feature if there is an available target, but if there is not, delink it. Spreading into a licensing position for a marked feature, like a stressed syllable, is attested at least for some features and some positions, and so are the related neutralization patterns (see Rachel Walker’s book), but the pattern we’re pointing to doesn’t require that the target position for spreading be a licensing position. Kevin and Colin Wilson seemed to have independently noticed that this pattern is generated by McCarthy’s (2011) Share account when a markedness constraint is included in the constraint set. We talk about the pattern, and propose a means of avoiding it, in this handout from MFM 2015.

Assuming that these two gaps are real, for at least non-tonal features, they seem to point in different directions for our understanding of harmony, at least in OT. Sour Grapes seems to indicate that there needs to be a positive benefit for each instance of spreading. Use it or Lose it seems to indicate that this benefit cannot override a compulsion to delete a marked feature (as Kevin and I note, it seems to be a general problem for positive spreading constraints, including also Align and reward-assigning Spread). Our solution is to make the choice to parse a feature the first step in spreading it, but I’m sure there are other ways of getting a system that simultaneously avoids both kinds of overgeneration (Wilson suggests that Targeted Constraints can do the job, for instance).


Gathering data on gender distribution

From Kristen Syrett (
Dear all,
I’m writing to you, because I believe we are all like-minded in wanting to gather data on gender distribution and the representation of women in the field of Linguistics, and use these data to implement some positive changes in the field. I am currently chair of the LSA’s Committee for the Status of Women in Linguistics (COSWL).
The charge of COSWL is, “To monitor and advance the status of women in Linguistics.” To that end, one of our major initiatives this year (which will continue beyond this year, to be sure) is to gather and analyze data on gender distribution and the representation of women in a range of areas in the field, which can then be published and/or formally presented in a venue accessible to others in the field. (On a side note, COSWL have been actively involved in the last year in increasing awareness about the skew in gender distribution in LSA awards, particularly the Early Career Award, and was instrumental in instituting changes for the nomination process this past year, with a very positive outcome for 2015! We hope to continue this momentum this year.)
Emily and I believe that the grassroots efforts on data collection are an extremely effective way of compiling data. We also think that combining forces and working collectively on this effort would result in an incredibly meaningful and useful result.  For example, right now, if I wanted my colleagues to consider data on this topic when compiling short lists, inviting speakers at conferences, evaluating journal practices, etc., there is no common place where I can point them to reveal data on this topic, and the data are not uniformly accessible.  I had such an instance arise in the last year, and I desperately wanted to be able to refer my colleague to a reliable source of data to underscore my point, but was not able to do so.
I’m therefore writing specifically to you all to see if you (and anyone else you can think of) would be interested in working together on this data collection and analysis initiative.  We have a very enthusiastic group of COSWL members who are ready to hit the ground running with this, and who bring with them some skills and access to resources that could be very valuable in this effort. We have some ideas about our short-term and long-term goals for data collection and analysis.
The LSA could also provide us with valuable resources in reaching out to current members, but also more broadly to departments and others in the field, with the purpose of collecting and compiling data.(I had a meeting with the secretariat about this topic last week, and Emily also talked with them about this effort last year, so they are very supportive of COSWL’s work on this.) In addition, the LSA secretariat has been compiling data about gender distribution in Language and Semantics and Pragmatics submissions and publications, which could prove valuable. I see the LSA as a valuable resource in this endeavor, facilitating the collection and dissemination of relevant data.
In short, I am very much hoping that combining efforts and utilizing the resources of COSWL could really be awesome, and result in some very positive outcomes for the field.  I would be very happy to talk to any/all of you further either by email or Skype in the next few weeks. (Please forward this message along to whoever else you think might be interested!)
I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience!
Warmest regards,

Discussion topic: Structured abstracts

From Valerie Freeman (

What do you think of “structured abstracts”? In some fields, abstracts for conferences and journals are “structured,” with headings like “purpose, method, results, applications” – I find them easy to read (and write), but I haven’t seen them in linguistics much. I wonder, if people started sending them in for phonology conferences, how would reviewers react? If/when you’re a reviewer, would you like it? I’ve created a two-question survey to gather opinions, with links to an example and the instant-tally results:

Answers will be especially helpful to students and early-career linguists who worry about the risk of trying something new to the field. Thanks!


The representation of women in phonological discussion

From Joe Pater.

My impression is that women are relatively well-represented in phonology, maybe more so than in other sub-disciplines of linguistics. A little piece of encouraging data on this comes from the 2015 Annual Meeting on Phonology, in which 18/27, or 66%, of the authors of oral presentations , including plenaries but not tutorials, were women (I was unable to identify the gender of one author). I’d be very interested if anyone has any better data on the representation of women in phonology, especially with respect to semantics, syntax and phonetics.

I also have the impression that women are under-represented in phonological discussion, that is, in question periods and other discussions at conferences, and I suspect this is part of a much broader phenomenon. A piece of data on this also comes from AMP 2015. Kie Zuraw kept track of the gender of question askers for 16 of the talks (all but the first two). 74/103 = 77% of the questions were asked by men, even though the audience was about equally balanced between men and women. Zuraw’s observations replicate previous observations by Stephanie Shih from the Computational Phonology and Morphology Workshop held July 11 2015 at the LSA Summer Institute, in which the audience was roughly gender balanced, but the question takers skewed male. Inspired by Shih and Zuraw’s observations, I kept track of the gender of question takers at the LSA Phonology: Learning and Learnability session January 7th, 2016, and got 26/29 = 90% male questioners, with what looked again to be a roughly gender balanced audience.

These results are not surprising – I think they are just confirming what we’ve all informally observed in conferences and elsewhere (though I have to say that I was surprised at how skewed my own count was). There is undoubtedly a complex set of conscious and unconscious biases underlying our behavior that’s producing this distribution, and presumably there is a literature in some field that has studied related phenomena. My current thinking is that there are some pretty obvious conscious decisions we can each make to change this distribution, and that simply talking about this phenomenon and raising awareness of it may well help to get a better representation of women in phonological and other academic discussion. I do hope this situation changes, because I’d very much to like to hear more of my female colleagues’ thoughts after talks.

Thanks to Ellen Broselow, Jenny Culbertson, Claire Moore-Cantwell, Magda Oiry, Stephanie Shih and Kie Zuraw for discussion.

Update Jan. 10th: Thanks to someone who prefers to remain anonymous for the following graph, which shows we still have some work to do in terms of representation of women as invited speakers. The ns in the graph are the total number of speakers.

proportion_females_invited_to_phon_confs copy

Update Jan. 12th Sharon Peperkamp has shared “data for 53 conferences between 1993 and 2013, for a total of almost 300 invited and more than 2000 selected speakers, with 37% invited vs. 49% selected women”. It’s great to see that women are indeed well represented in phonology in general, and this makes it even clearer that we have work to do on the invited speaker numbers. Sharon has also contributed this plot of percentages over time.sharon

The spreadsheet is available here, if anyone would like to further analyze it, make figures, or continue to keep track of the numbers. If someone wants to volunteer to coordinate this effort, please e-mail me, and I’ll put that information here. As Rachel Walker has pointed out to me, conferences could also keep track of diversity statistics themselves – apparently she’ll be bringing this up with the AMP board. If this happens, we could keep a consolidated public record here.