Category Archives: sound change

Friday, December 2 @ 3:30 PM: Jacob Phillips (UChicago)

Please join LVC this Friday, December 2 at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. It will be our last meeting of the quarter and our speaker is our own Jacob Phillips. Hope you can make it!

Retraction in Action: Examining phonological and prosodic effects on /s/-retraction in the laboratory”
Jacob Phillips
University of Chicago

An ongoing sound change in American English is /s/-retraction, the process by which /s/ is articulated approaching /ʃ/ in the context of /r/. Speakers vary significantly in the degree of retraction observed, with all individuals exhibiting coarticulatory effects of /r/ in /sCr/ clusters and some individuals displaying an apparent sound change, with /s/ reanalyzed as /ʃ/ in /str/ clusters (Mielke et al., 2010; Baker et al., 2011). The present study uses experimental methods seeks to better understand the actuation of this sound change through a phonological and prosodic lens. College-aged students from across the United States read a series of sentences manipulating the phonological and prosodic environments of these sibilant. The results of this study demonstrate a retracted /s/ in the context of /r/ and phrase-intitially. While there was not a significant group-level effect for the interaction of prosodic position and phonological environment, the inclusion of by-subject random slopes for that interaction, which significantly improves model likelihood, suggests that individuals vary with respect to the effects of prosodic conditioning of /s/-retraction in different phonological contexts. These findings suggest a possible role of prosodic position in the actuation of sound change, both in production and possible effects in perception.


14 April: Tony Woodbury (UT Austin)

Monday, April 18th @ 3:00 PM, Pick 016

The Emergence from Tone of Vowel Register and Graded Nasalization in the Eastern Chatino of San Miguel Panixtlahuaca

(based on joint work with John Kingston, University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

The Chatino languages (Otomanguean; Oaxaca, Mexico) generally retain the conservative Proto-Chatino vowel inventory: */a, e, i, o, u/, with nasalized counterparts */ą, ę, į, ǫ/. Pride & Pride’s 2004 dictionary of San Miguel Panixtlahuaca Eastern Chatino (PAN) indicates the same for that variety. But work by our group (Cruz et al. 2012) tells a quite different story. We find that PAN departed from the system by developing a more elaborate vowel system: /a, ɛ, e, i, ɔ, o, u/ (Cruz et al. 2012), as well as a contrast between ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ nasalized vowel sets: /ą, ę, ǫ/ vs.  /ąŋ, ęŋ, įŋ, ǫŋ/.

We argue that the main triggers for the expansion of this inventory was tonal: A mora-linked low or falling tone followed by a floating tone *L-(T) in Proto Eastern Chatino (pEC). In its (etymological) presence, the historical vowel system was rendered as /a, ɛ, e, ɔ, o/ and /ą, ę, ę, ǫ/ (merging *ę with *į); while in its absence the system was rendered as /ɔ, e, i, o u/ and /ąŋ, ęŋ, įŋ, ǫŋ/. We call the two renditions the low (and light-nasal) register vs. the high (and heavy-nasal) register, where ‘low’ and ‘high’ refer to the overall effect on Proto-EC vowel quality.


After giving general background on the Chatino languages, we describe the development from pEC of the PAN vowel system, justifying the claim that it is an innovation; we then use comparative evidence from other Eastern Chatino varieties to reconstruct the likely phonological and phonetic content of the *L-(T) tonal trigger (based on Campbell & Woodbury 2010). We then show that the tonal reflexes of the tonal trigger in the modern PAN tonal are virtually merged with non-*L-(T) tones for some speakers, and entirely merged for others, leaving a system in which the expanded vowel system has phonemic status while the tonal distinctions, if present, are residual.


This set of changes is significant as: (a) a relatively rare case of  relationship between vowel height and tone that is not mediated by voice quality (as discussed by Denning 1989; but cf. Becker & Jurgec 2008, who demonstrate a relationship between vowel height and tone in Slovenian); (b) an (unprecedented?) case of a relationship between nasal grading and tone); (c) a case involving tone where the crucial conditioning factor in a series of historical changes is synchronically barely detectable or undetectable, leaving room for alternative synchronic analyses; and (d) a demonstration of the value of comparative and historically-informed field work as a method for discovery and description, and as a source of insight for phonological and phonetic investigation.

24 February: Carissa Abrego-Collier (UChicago)

Monday, February 24th @ 3:00 PM, Kent 107

Investigating phonetic variation over time in the U.S. Supreme Court

Phonetic research over the past two decades has shown that individual speakers vary their phonetic realizations of words, phonemes, and subphonemic features. What we have found is that speakers show remarkable stability over time, while a small minority exhibit time-dependent variation—what we term change. Prior research has shown that individual-level phonetic change can occur at scales ranging from minutes (as induced in laboratory experiments (Nielsen 2007, Babel 2009, Yu et al. 2013) to years (as observed in speech corpora, e.g., Sankoff 2004, Harrington 2006). Significantly, this research suggests that individual change in both the short and long term may ultimately be a crucial component of sound change in a population.

The SCOTUS speech corpus project is concerned with this kind of individual variation and change. How do different phonetic variables vary over time? How do different speakers vary their pronunciations over time? That is, what time dependence, if any, do different phonetic variables show within individual speakers, and how might individuals’ variation patterns converge with one another?  These are the questions which I seek to address. My research will yield three types of contributions: an extensive speech corpus for studying the link between social interaction and language change; a study of change within individuals and within a group of speakers over time; and an exploration of the relationship between different individuals’ patterns of variation (which may be time-dependent), as mediated by linguistic, social, and environmental factors.  In this talk, I introduce the SCOTUS speech corpus, a digital audio archive of U.S. Supreme Court oral argument recordings transcribed to phoneme level via forced alignment.  I then describe an ongoing longitudinal study of phonetic variation and convergence using the corpus, which will analyze the speech of the justices of the Supreme Court over a period of 7 years. Using data from one term year as a case study, I present preliminary findings on one phonetic variable, vowel formants, and situate the current project within past research on phonetic variation and change over time.

4 November: Jeff Good (University at Buffalo)

Monday, November 4th @ 3 PM, Harper 140

Magical ideologies of language change: Connecting micro-level variation to macro-areal diversification

In many respects, historical investigation of the Bantu language family serves as a model application of the Comparative Method to a genealogical unit outside of Indo-European. The close relationship of hundreds of languages occupying the greater part of southern sub-Saharan Africa is beyond question, and there is  consensus on many important features of the proto-language. At the same time, despite more than a century and a half of scholarship, significant issues regarding the development of the family remain unresolved almost to the point of seeming intractable. No shared innovation has been found that uniquely delineates Bantu from its closest relatives, no family-wide subgrouping has become accepted, and no fully convincing explanation has been offered for Bantu’s incredibly successful spread throughout southern Africa.

This talk reconsiders these issues through the examination of the comparative linguistics of a small, linguistically diverse region of Cameroon known as Lower Fungom, which is located within the putative Proto-Bantu homeland. By treating Lower Fungom as a microcosm for Bantu, it becomes possible to explore how a local ideology that links languages to relatively ephemeral political entities results in patterns of language change which are neither tree-like nor wave-like but, rather, “magnetic”, with varieties in contact constantly converging and diverging from each other to reflect shifting patterns of solidarity and antagonism. This ideological stance is further associated with a system of beliefs wherein code choice is perceived as a means to access the magical protection associated with a given community. This fosters multilingualism and frequent language shift as strategies through which individuals can attempt to increase their spiritual security.

Through the examination of specific structural features of the languages of Lower Fungom, it will be argued that the presence of these ideological patterns can take us far in understanding why there was never a clean linguistic “break” between Bantu and its closest relatives, why clear-cut subgroups never formed, and why the family spread so successfully. More generally, it will be suggested that detailed investigation of the ways that local language ideologies relate codes to communities has a significant role to play in addressing the actuation problem in language change.

13 May: Joshua Katz (Princeton)

Monday, May 13th @ 3 PM, Wieboldt 408

What are they?: Some Hidden Forms of the Copula in Old Irish

It is uncontroversial that Proto-Indo-European *-nti# regularly becomes -t /d/ in Old Irish, as in beraitberat ‘(they) carry’ (< *bheronti).  Nevertheless, my principal claim in this talk is that just in the copula, and under certain specifiable conditions, the same sequence results instead in -n.  In the course of using this new phonological rule to uncover a couple of hitherto unnoticed copular forms, I also comment on morpho-phonological curiosities in the paradigm of the Old Irish copula more generally.

27 May: Rebekah Baglini (UChicago)

Friday, May 27 @ 3pm, Karen Landahl Center for Linguistics Research

“Modeling variation and change in radoppiamento sintattico


The external sandhi phenomenon of raddoppiamento sintattico (RS) in Italian has been a prominent topic in phonology for decades. While the existing theoretical literature treats RS as a regular phonological process, recent research has found that there is considerable variation in the realization of RS in two different domains: across dialects, due to diachronic change (Loporcaro 1996, 1997, 2001), and within dialectics, due to phonetic conditioning factors (Campos-Astorkiza 2004; Hajek et al. 2007; Stevens et al. 2002; Stevens and Hajek 2004, 2005, 2006).     This talk seeks to a) demonstrate that these two sources of variation are in fact interrelated, and that any analysis of one without the other is necessarily incomplete; and b) propose a new constraint-based analysis in which the phonology is crucially conditioned by phonetic factors.  Specifically, I argue that a model of partially ordered constraints (Anttila 1997, Anttila and Cho 1998) successfully predicts variation in individual grammars while simultaneously capturing the attested path of diachronic sound change between grammars.  To account for the facts concerning variation in the phonetic implementation of RS, I argue that the constraints themselves can be formulated as contextual markedness constraints based on the availability of perceptual cues, in the spirit of Licensing-by-Cue (Steriade 1997).    Thus, without sacrificing theoretical simplicity, this model is able to capture the empirical facts about RS far more successfully than prior analyses.

01 April: Alice Harris (UMass Amherst)

Friday, April 01 @ 3pm, Cobb 301

Origins of Metathesis in Batsbi


Blevins and Garrett (1998) investigate in detail the origins of CV/VC metathesis in a number of languages and identify two types of metathesis and a “pseudometathesis”.  For them, “pseudometathesis” is a synchronic process that does not originate through the historical process of metathesis.  They analyze languages in which “pseudometathesis” originates through epenthesis and deletion (1998) or through reinterpretation and generalization of other processes in the language (Garrett and Blevins 2009).  I argue here that metathesis in Batsbi originates as a result of grammaticalization, together with regular phonological processes.  When a function word, such as an auxiliary, grammaticalizes as an affix on a base, affixes trapped between the base and new affix are often lost (Harris and Faarlund 2006).  However, in Batsbi some trapped affixes were not immediately lost, and I argue that this is the source of the variable position of the present tense marker, and that its variable position was reanalyzed as metathesis.   I argue further that the reanalyzed process is true metathesis synchronically, inasmuch as it spreads beyond the environment in which it originally occurred.

07 Feb: Carissa Abrego-Collier (UChicago)

Liquid phonology: A test case for the listener misperception hypothesis


The listener misperception hypothesis of sound change (Ohala 1981, 1993, 2003) has been a fruitful area of inquiry over the past several years, in part because it makes testable predictions. One prediction is that long-distance dissimilation such as liquid (lateral) dissimilation should be a result of listener hypercorrection. While a number of studies have found experimental evidence for the perceptual origins of assimilation, to date no work has shown empirically that the origins of dissimilation are perceptual. The present study focuses on understanding the origins of liquid dissimilation by testing listener categorization of liquids along an /r/-/l/ continuum to explore perceptual patterns of co-occurring liquids, which have been shown to have robust long-range coarticulatory effects (Tunley 1999, Heid & Hawkins 2000, West 1999, 2000).

Listeners have long been known to have perceptual access to the fine-grained acoustic details that accompany coarticulation, and to use these acoustic cues in phoneme discrimination (e.g. Whalen 1990, Kingston & Diehl 1994, Gaskell 1997, Beddor et al. 2007). A novel aspect of this study is that, while past studies have generally found that listeners perceptually “undo” the acoustic effects of coarticulation (e.g. Mann & Repp 1980 et seq.), the results here suggest that for liquids, listeners adjust their perception in the same direction as coarticulation, strengthening rather than undoing the effect.  Furthermore, since for liquids listeners are shown to compensate in an assimilatory direction, dissimilation would result from a failure to compensate normally, suggesting dissimilation may be a result of hypocorrection rather than hypercorrection.