LINGUIST List 24.2530

Thu Jun 20 2013

Diss: Phonology, Cognitive Science, Computational Ling: Gorman: 'Generative Phonotactics'

Editor for this issue: Xiyan Wang <>

Date: 20-Jun-2013
From: Kyle Gorman <>
Subject: Generative Phonotactics
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Institution: University of Pennsylvania Program: Department of Linguistics Dissertation Status: Completed Degree Date: 2013

Author: Kyle Gorman

Dissertation Title: Generative Phonotactics

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Cognitive Science                             Computational Linguistics                             Phonology
Dissertation Director:
Charles Yang Stephen R. Anderson Eugene Buckley Mark Liberman Rolf Noyer
Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation outlines a program for the theory of phonotactics—the
theory of speakers’ knowledge of possible and impossible (or likely and
unlikely) words—and argues that the alternative view of phonotactics as
stochastic, and of phonotactic learning as probabilistic inference, is
incapable of accounting for the facts of this domain. Chapter 1 outlines
the proposal, precursors, and predictions.

Chapter 2 considers evidence from wordlikeness rating tasks. It is argued
that intermediate well-formedness ratings are obtained whether or not the
categories in question are graded. A primitive categorical model of
wordlikeness using prosodic representations is outlined, and shown to
predict English speakers’ wordlikeness judgements as accurately as
state-of-the-art gradient wellformedness models. Once categorical effects
are controlled for, these gradient models are largely uncorrelated with

Chapter 3 considers the relationship between lexical generalizations,
phonological alternations, and speakers’ nonce word judgements with a focus
on Turkish vowel patterns. It is shown that even exception-filled
phonological generalizations have a robust effect on wellformedness
judgements, but that statistically reliable phonotactic generalizations may
go unlearned when they are not derived from phonological alternations.

Chapter 4 investigates the role of phonological alternations in determining
the phonological lexicon, focusing specifically on medial consonant
clusters in English. Static phonotactic constraints previously proposed to
describe gaps in the inventory of medial clusters are shown to be
statistically unsound, whereas phonological alternations impose robust
restrictions on the cluster inventory. The remaining gaps in the cluster
inventory are attributed to the sparse nature of the lexicon, not static
phonotactic restrictions.

Chapter 5 summarizes the findings, considers their relation to order of
acquisition, and proposes directions for future research.

Page Updated: 20-Jun-2013