LINGUIST List 24.3282

Fri Aug 16 2013

Review: Historical Linguistics; Phonetics; Phonology: Yu (2013)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 13-May-2013
From: Evan Bradley < Bradley>>
Subject: Origins of Sound Change
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Alan C.L. YuTITLE: Origins of Sound ChangeSUBTITLE: Approaches to PhonologizationPUBLISHER: Oxford University PressYEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Evan D Bradley, Pennsylvania State University, Brandywine

SUMMARYThis book sets out to accomplish the daunting task of providing acomprehensive, up-to-date view of sound change research, incorporatinginsights from theoretical linguistics, psychology, modeling, and other fields.Part 1 contextualizes phonologization in relation to larger questions oflinguistics, psycholinguistics, and cognitive science. Part 2 examines therelationship between phonology and phonetics -- acoustic, perceptual, andarticulatory. Part 3 considers the relation between processes ofphonologization and the architecture of phonology, morphology, and thelexicon. Part 4 explores psychological and social factors governing soundchange within language communities.

Part I: What is Phonologization

1. Enlarging the Scope of Phonologization, Larry Hyman

Hyman begins the volume by providing important historical context to andreviewing multiple perspectives on the scope of phonologization, and arguesfor expanding its definition to include a range of phenomena spanning changefrom intrinsic phonetic variation to extrinsic phonological rule. Through casestudies involving tonogenesis and ATR harmony, he argues that contrast is notan essential component of phonological change, and that allophony and otherprocesses play important roles. In his view, phonologization can be consideredthe formation of phonology from any source, and thus is a part of the largerconcept of ‘grammaticalization’. In fact, he proposes an admittedlyimpractical but conceptually useful improvement in terminology to refer tovarious processes of language change, such as ‘dephoneticphonogrammaticalization’, meaning the conversion of phonetic information intophonological grammar.

2. Certainty and Expectation in Phonologization and Language, Elizabeth Humeand Frederic Mailhot

Like the opening chapter, Hume and Mailhot broaden and contextualize thedefinition of phonologization, this time in terms of information theory,rather than linguistic theory. This allows consideration of the degree towhich grammar-external factors play a role in predicting the targets andresults of change. The authors define a model based on the entropy, or“average surprisal”, of a system, and demonstrate that elements at bothextremes of surprisal are targeted for change. The linguistic effects ofchange can also be described in terms of entropy: changes from high to lowsurprisal are structure preserving, while those from low to high need not be.

Part II: Phonetic Considerations

3. Phonetic Bias in Sound Change, Andrew Garrett and Keith Johnson

Garrett and Johnson consider the phonetic basis of sound change, focusing onquestions of typology (why some changes are common, and why some are not -- a“typology of causes”), and actuation (what triggers phonologization of aphonetic element at a particular time and place). The model of phonologizationpresented has three stages: (i) structured (i.e., biased) phonetic variationin the signal, (ii) linguistically constrained selection of said variants, and(iii) innovation by individuals who propagate changes.

They go on to provide evidence for each component, demonstrating that biasesin the production and perception of speech are non-random and directional, dueto such factors as motor planning, aerodynamic constraints, gesturalmechanics, and perceptual parsing. These individual factors interact withsystemic biases (second-order biases) arising from language-specific anduniversal constraints. Finally, the authors describe a simulation model ofactuation based on variation in sociolinguistic awareness within a populationof speakers.

4. From Long to Short and from Short to Long: Perceptual Motivations forChanges in Vocalic Length, Heike Lehnert-LeHouillier

Lehnert-LeHouillier attempts to account for the fact that,crosslinguistically, some sound changes are bidirectional and some areunidirectional. Examining the interaction of vowel duration with f0 and vowelheight, Lehnert-LeHouiller argues that unidirectional changes are driven byintrinsic phonetic factors (those which affect all listeners in alllanguages), while bidirectional changes are driven by extrinsic factors (thosewhich affect different languages differently). In this model, tightlyassociated (intrinsic) cues, like spectral cues, are less likely to beseparated due to sound change, which is why vowel length distinctions arisefrom height distinctions, but not vice versa; cues like f0 are extrinsicallyassociated with vowel height, and are more likely to become dissociated,allowing the development of length contrasts from tonal contrasts, and thereverse. This was supported by the results of a perceptual experimentinvolving speakers from a number of languages with a vowel length contrast,but varying degrees of association between vowel height, f0, and duration.

5. Inhibitory Mechanisms in Speech Planning Maintain and Maximize Contrast,Sam Tilsen

Tilsen begins by noting that there are many cases where phonetic precursors tophonological change are not phonologized, and that loss of contrast is apossible but not inevitable outcome of sound change. Thus, it is important toconsider forces hindering phonologization, along with those favoring it.Dispersion theories capture this notion at a language/typological level, butnot at the level of psychological mechanisms at play in individual speakers.According to Tilsen, these are competing or coincident motor plans whichinteract to push apart or maintain a contrast. This is supported byexperimental production studies demonstrating that when motor plans for nearbycategories are planned together, acoustic dissimilation results compared tothe same categories planned separately.

6. Developmental Perspectives on Phonological Typology and Sound Change,Chandan Narayan

Narayan considers the roles of infants as listeners and caregivers as speakersin shaping typological patterns of sound change, specifically examining theway infant perceptual biases influence typology, and the characteristics ofinfant directed speech which create the acoustic conditions for sound change.Narayan hypothesizes that acoustic salience and biases unique to infantsmediate the relationship between perception and the inventory, leading to theprediction that contrasts which require experience or learning are rarercrosslinguistically. A series of case studies shows correlations betweencontrast acoustics, infant perception, and typology. Not only do infantsoperate in a biased way on speech input, but Narayan demonstrates that infantdirected speech differs from adult directed speech by analyzing therelationship between pitch cues, voice onset time, and voicing contrasts inEnglish infant directed speech at different developmental stages.

Part III: Phonological and Morphological Considerations

7. Lexical Sensitivity to Phonetic and Phonological Pressures, Abby Kaplan

Kaplan attempts to determine whether the lexical frequency of phonologicalpatterns is driven by phonetic pressures, phonological markedness, or theirinteraction. To do so, she compares intrinsic phonetic tendencies which havebeen phonologized in some languages to those which have not been phonologizedin any language, finding that lexical patterns are affected bycrosslinguistically phonologized phonetic patterns (even if not phonologizedin a particular language), but not by phonetic patterns whose phonologizationis unattested. From this, Kaplan concludes that phonetic patterns do notaffect the lexicon directly, and that abstract phonological markednessintervenes. Another formulation of this conclusion seems to be that only thosephonetic patterns that may be phonologized can affect the lexicon. Kaplan goeson to consider alternative formulations of this model, and its extension tophonological alternations.

8. Phonologization and the Typology of Feature Behaviour, Jeff Mielke

Mielke begins by juxtaposing two major theories about the nature ofdistinctive features; either they are an innate part of Universal Grammar, orthey are emergent from phonetic patterns. Mielke analyzes a database ofphonetic patterns (P-base), counting and categorizing them according to thetype of pattern and the sets of phonological features which best describethem. Patterns are classified as spreading, dissimilation, partitioning(selecting targets or environments for alternations), or other processes.

Some distinctive features are more involved with some categories of patternsthan others, which Mielke links to differences in their phonetic correlates,noting that those features involved in partitioning are those which haveproven to be the hardest to define cross-linguistically (e.g., laterals).Mielke argues that differences between languages in the behavior of thesefeatures should be accounted for by variation in the formation of featuresfrom their phonetic correlates, rather than changes or additions to auniversal feature set.

9. Rapid Learning of Morphologically Conditioned Phonetics: Vowel NasalizationAcross a Boundary, Rebecca Morley

Languages vary not only in their phonological patterns, but in the nature anddegree of phonetic implementations (e.g., degree of vowel nasalization by anasal consonant), so these language-specific phonetics must be learned. Thesecan interact with morphology, and possibly other levels of prosodic structure(i.e., derived environment effects). Morley’s goal is to establish a phoneticorigin for such domain-restricted processes, incorporating them into anevolutionary phonology framework. An artificial language learning experimentinvolving vowel nasalization is presented to determine whether listeners canboth attend to subphonemic variants and link them to morphological structure.The results of a perceptual task indicate that listeners are sensitive to thepattern. Morley argues that this sensitivity constitutes a first step inphonologization, and speculates that perhaps all sound change begins at aboundary; if true, derived environment effects could be of central, ratherthan marginal importance.

Part IV: Social and Computational Dynamics

10. Individual Variation in Socio-cognitive Processing and Sound Change, AlanC.L. Yu

Alan Yu considers psychosocial factors involved in the actuation and diffusionof sound change. Sociolinguistic theories of language change includelinguistic ‘innovators’, and ‘propagators’ who spread changes through alinguistic community. Yu attempts to determine the psychological and socialcharacteristics of these innovators, arguing that they arise in part fromindividual differences in cognitive processing style -- so-called ‘autistictraits’, even among typical individuals. These traits are shown to correlatewith perceptual compensation for coarticulation in speech, as well as socialcharacteristics like empathy. Yu suggests that a population of ‘minimalcompensators,’ defined by an imbalance between cognitive characteristics,tolerate and use a wider range of variation within linguistic categories andhave a wide social network, making them good candidates to be leaders inpropagating sound change. Yu speculates about the role of individuals at theother end of the spectrum from these minimal compensators, but the importantinsight of this chapter is that not everyone operates on linguistic input inthe same way, and that variation in language may be accounted for as aby-product of our cognitive, biological, and social makeup.

11. The Role of Probabilistic Enhancement in Phonologization, James Kirby

Kirby considers two central questions: first, why are only selected cues to acontrast targeted for phonologization and not other potential targets; andsecond, what causes transphonologization (dephonologization of one cuefollowing phonologization of another)? Reminiscent of Hume and Mailhot’sapproach (Chapter 2), Kirby’s model posits that the selection of cues for(de)phonologization is based on adaptive enhancement of the contrast -- ifcontrast precision is lost, cues change to compensate, and those cues whichchange are those which are most informative. Kirby notes that listeners in thereal world are not ideal, and that all cues are not of equal importance.Phonological categories are modeled as weighted mixtures of cues in anagent-based system of listeners and talkers with four stages: production,(talker) enhancement, (listener) bias, and categorization. This model isapplied to the case of phonologization of f0 from voicing contrasts in SeoulKorean. Duration, harmonics, and burst amplitude are also cues to the voicingcontrast, but the model results in category changes matches those observed inSeoul Korean (phonologization of f0, not other cues), without targeting anyspecific cues for enhancement. This model clarifies the role of enhancementand bias in change, and suggests that the selection of cues for(de)phonologization can be predicted.

12. Modelling the Emergence of Vowel Harmony Through Iterated Learning,Frederic Mailhot

Mailhot analyzes the diachronic emergence of vowel harmony (focusing onlexical harmony, rather than alternations, as he considers this important forunderstanding diachronic change) as resulting from a combination of synchroniccoarticulation and biased transmission. He presents a simple iterated learningmodel, consisting of one “adult” and one “child” (learner) transmitting wordsconsisting of four vowels, defined by height and backness features. Theacoustic (f1, f2) values of these articulatory features are calculated fromcategory prototypes combined with coarticulation and noise. The learnerreverses this process, inferring representations of lexical items based onacoustic prototypes. The properties of the learner’s lexicon vary, dependingon levels of noise, coarticulation, and hypocorrection, but there appear to bestable states of the lexicon corresponding to no harmony, complete harmony,and partial harmony across the lexicon. Thus, language-specific phoneticdifferences, such as vowel-to-vowel coarticulation could be related to lexicaltendencies, and possibly phonological alternations.

13. Variation and Change in English Noun/Verb Pair Stress: Data, DynamicalSystems Models, and their Interaction, Morgan Sonderegger and Partha Niyogi

Sonderegger and Niyogi take on the actuation problem: not all phoneticvariation results in phonological change, so why does some? The authorsexamine stress shifts in English noun-verb pairs from 1700-2007, drawing datafrom many dictionaries and incorporating differences in pronunciation entriesas evidence of variation. Several observations emerge from the behavior ofpairs over time: some stress patterns are “stable states” -- short termvariation around these stable states often occurs, and long-term shift fromone stable state to another sometimes occurs, but rarely for both members ofthe noun-verb pair at the same time. The authors model noun-verb stress shiftsin the lexicon using factors based on how speakers deal with such variation inthe language, namely mistransmission, discarding (ignoring some variants), andtheir combination. Mistransmission alone does not produce shifts matching theobserved data, but discarding and the combined model lead to bifurcations innoun-verb pairs similar to those observed in the historical data. This modelillustrates the importance of combining individual and population level modelsin accounting for historical change.

EVALUATIONThis volume does an excellent job at living up to its goal to provide acomprehensive and state-of-the-science view on phonologization. Each chapterraises interesting questions and invites further inquiry, and I have very fewsubstantive criticisms of the work as a whole.

The entire book would be an excellent introduction to phonologization foradvanced graduate students. There is a balance between chapters providing awider view of theories of sound change with those examining particular casestudies in detail (the latter nonetheless drawing general principles from saidexamples). Important theories and models are discussed throughout, whichunites these chapters around common themes without being overly repetitive.

Each chapter also provides adequate context and background to stand alone, andindividual chapters will likely be of interest to students and researchers indisciplines outside of linguistics, and linguists and psychologists with otherspecializations who are interested in sound change should find themaccessible. For instance, the several chapters incorporating computationalmodels do a good job of describing in sufficient detail for the nonspecialistthe computational principles involved while maintaining a focus on therelevant human/linguistic behavior; at the same time, they demonstrateimportant applications of information theory and various modeling techniquesin linguistics. Computer scientists and other specialists will likely findmost chapters short on technical detail, but they successfully demonstrate theapplication of these techniques to the unique characteristics of language andprovide an introduction and references to the linguistic theory involved.

As noted by Hyman in Chapter 1, phonologization touches upon and perhapsprovides useful evidence for other fundamental questions about language, suchas the nature and origin of grammar, and a subset of the chapters examinerelated issues (e.g., 7, 8). Later chapters (e.g., 10, 13) link phonetic andphonological aspects of language, which might be considered fairly“micro-level” variation to those in other fields, to more general cognitive,biological, and social dimensions of communication, thus linking diversepoints of the spectrum of human behavior together, and demonstrating the valueof multifaceted approach to understanding sound change taken in this volume,which hopefully lead to the fruitful “cross-pollination” alluded to in theintroduction by editor Alan Yu.

ABOUT THE REVIEWEREvan D. Bradley is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Pennsylvania StateUniversity, Brandywine. He earned a PhD in Linguistics & Cognitive Science atthe University of Delaware, and a BA in Cognitive Science and Certificate inMusic at Northwestern University. His research interests include acousticphonetics, auditory perception, and phonological learning, as well as musicperception and cognition. His current work examines the perception andlearning of musical melody and lexical tone languages.

Page Updated: 16-Aug-2013