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LINGUIST List 19.2439

Wed Aug 06 2008

Diss: Cognitive Sci/Comp Ling/Phonology/Psycholing: Finley: 'Formal...'

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        1.    Sara Finley, Formal and Cognitive Restrictions on Vowel Harmony

Message 1: Formal and Cognitive Restrictions on Vowel Harmony
Date: 05-Aug-2008
From: Sara Finley <finleycogsci.jhu.edu>
Subject: Formal and Cognitive Restrictions on Vowel Harmony
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Institution: Johns Hopkins University
Program: Department of Cognitive Science
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2008

Author: Sara Finley

Dissertation Title: Formal and Cognitive Restrictions on Vowel Harmony

Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science
                            Computational Linguistics

Dissertation Director:
William Badecker
Paul Smolensky

Dissertation Abstract:

Vowel harmony, a phonological process whereby adjacent vowels share values
of a phonological feature, has raised important challenges for generative
phonology, particularly Optimality Theory (OT) (Prince and Smolensky,
1993/2004), a theory of linguistic typology in which output forms are
computed in parallel from an infinite candidate set. The parallel nature of
computations in OT, as well as the unconstrained candidate set for possible
outputs poses challenges for a theory of vowel harmony, which applies in a
local fashion, such that vowels share the same feature value as their
nearest neighbor. Particularly, standard theories of vowel harmony in OT
predict the existence of pathological vowel harmony processes that are
unconstrained by locality, producing patterns that are never found in
natural language. Building on the work of Turbidity Theory (Goldrick,
2001), this dissertation proposes Turbid Spreading, a theory of
representations for harmony that provides a solution to the 'myopia'
generalization in OT. Representations for features are both rich as well as
constrained, making it possible to account for several aspects of vowel
harmony (e.g., non-participating vowels and epenthetic vowels) without
over-predicting. Evidence for the completeness of the predicted typology is
provided using computational methods (i.e., finite-state machines). The
cognitive bases for the typological restrictions on vowel harmony typology
are verified in a series of 12 experiments using the artificial grammar
learning paradigm in adults. In these experiments, English speakers are
exposed to mini versions of vowel harmony languages, followed by a
forced-choice comprehension test. This test contains novel items as well as
items from the training set. In particular, several novel test items
include novel representations (e.g., novel vowels), which have been
specifically held out from training to test. This 'poverty of the stimulus'
method (Wilson, 2006) makes it possible to test learners' bi inferences
towards ambiguous stimuli. The results of these experiments suggest that
learners' biases conform to the cross-linguistic typology of harmony
languages. Learners are biased to learn harmony patterns that are
frequently occurring and phonetically natural, but biased against rare or
non-existing patterns. These findings support the hypothesis that
typological restrictions are grounded in learning biases.

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