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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: The Evolving Lexicon Add Dissertation
Author: Andrew Martin Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2007
Linguistic Subfield(s): Phonology;
Director(s): Kie Zuraw

Abstract: Although gradient phonotactics, phonological generalizations that are
statistical rather than categorical, are a ubiquitous feature of human
languages, current models of gradient phonotactics do not address the
typological or diachronic aspects of these generalizations--why some
phonotactic patterns are more common than others, and how and why these
patterns change over time. In this dissertation I propose that the
statistical properties of the lexicon are shaped in part by unconscious
phonotactic preferences on the part of language users--biases that affect a
word’s chance of becoming established among a community of speakers, or
remaining in use once established.

The dissertation is devoted to establishing two main claims: first, that
phonotactic preferences are real, and second, that the mechanism that
drives these preferences consists of competitions among words during speech
production. In support of the first, empirical, claim, I present three main
examples of phonotactic preferences: (1) a bias in favor of /b/ over /d/ in
the development of Latin into French, which is motivated by articulatory
ease, (2) a gradient OCP effect in English, motivated by processing ease,
and (3) a correlation between tautomorphemic and heteromorphemic
phonotactics in several languages, which I argue is motivated by the
structure of the human phonotactic learning algorithm.

In support of the second, theoretical claim, that phonotactic preferences
can result from competitions among synonyms, I present a spreading
activation model of speech production (Dell 1986) which consists of a
network in which lexical items which match concepts the speaker wishes to
express are activated by those concepts, and then in turn activate their
constituent phonological subparts. Synonyms, words that represent the same
concept, are simultaneously activated and race to reach an activation
threshold--the winner of this race is selected and used by the speaker to
express the concept. Properties that allow a word to be accessed more
quickly thus confer an advantage to words that have those properties. Words
with phonotactic patterns that facilitate lexical access will tend to be
used more than words without those patterns, leading over time to a lexicon
in which these 'good' patterns predominate.