LINGUIST List 25.3165

Mon Aug 04 2014

Diss: English; Comp Ling, Morphology, Phonology, Text/Corpus Ling: Shih: 'Towards Optimal Rhythm'

Editor for this issue: Danuta Allen <>

Date: 02-Aug-2014
From: Stephanie Shih <>
Subject: Towards Optimal Rhythm
E-mail this message to a friend

Institution: Stanford University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2014

Author: Stephanie Sin-Yun Shih

Dissertation Title: Towards Optimal Rhythm

Linguistic Field(s): Computational Linguistics
                            Text/Corpus Linguistics

Subject Language(s): English (eng)

Dissertation Director:
Sharon Inkelas
Arto Anttila

Dissertation Abstract:

This thesis argues that rhythmic well-formedness preferences contribute to
conditioning morphosyntactic choices, providing evidence from patterns in
language use that constraints on phonological constructs are at work in the
assessment of competing morphosyntactic variants. The results of the thesis
call into question a fundamental empirical assumption underlying many
standard models of grammar and of language production: that metrical or
segmental phonology cannot influence morphosyntactic encoding.
Phonologically-conditioned morphological phenomena are of familiar stock.
Phonological constraints can force blocking of morphological processes and
combinatorics, resulting in a number of repair strategies: re-ordering,
periphrasis, deletion, and suppletion. It is shown in this thesis that
phonologically-conditioned syntactic phenomena follow a similar typological
spread. The same phonological constraints that interfere with morphology
also operate across word and phrase boundaries, triggering repairs of word
(re-)ordering, periphrasis/paraphrasing, deletion, and suppletion (i.e., lexeme
Two empirical studies of the rhythmic conditioning of word choice (e.g.,
personal name choice) and syntactic choice (e.g., genitive alternation) in
English are presented. The case studies demonstrate that rhythmic
optimization, in addition to other phonological well-formedness preferences
such as phonotactic co-occurrence restrictions, are active in word and
construction variation in syntagmatic contexts. It is furthermore shown that the
effect of rhythm is closely tied to semantic factors such as animacy, which
reveals that rhythm must interact and compete with non-phonological
constraints in the system.
Allowing interaction between phonological material and morphosyntactic
choices raises the issue of how much surface and underlying phonetic and
phonological information is available at the point of morphosyntactic
computation. Rhythm offers a natural test case of the availability of underlying
versus post-lexically specified information via the distinction in stress
properties of lexical (content) and grammatical (function) words. A large-scale
corpus study of content and function word stress in conversational American
English is presented. Results of the study point to complex differences
between word categories in terms of underlying and surface stress properties.
These differences in stress not only trigger differences in rhythmic
optimization by word category but they also demonstrate that morphosyntactic
competitors are assessed without consideration of the potential output of
surface rhythmic optimization. In contrast, evidence from end weight
phenomena suggests that lexically-encoded information about underlying
phonological stress is available during morphosyntactic computation.
The view that emerges from the empirical studies in this thesis is one that
allows for potential phonological influence on morphological and syntactic
outputs. The phonological constraints that are most active will necessarily be
ones that regulate syntagmatic effects that occur when words combine in the
morphosyntax, and these phonological constraints—including the propensity
towards optimal rhythm—must compete for satisfaction against other active,
non-phonological pressures.

Page Updated: 04-Aug-2014