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Colloquium 1 (12th March, 10AM): Amanda Rysling (UC Santa Cruz)

Perception and production in the formation of vowel harmony

The first colloquium held at the Department of Linguistics, SNU in Spring 2021 is “Perception and production in the formation of vowel harmony” by Amanda Rysling.

The speaker currently works at University of California, Santa Cruz, USA. She acquired her PhD in Linguistics from University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2017.


Sound change has always interested phonologists. But accounting for sound change is difficult, because an analyst must explain both speakers' and listeners' behaviors. Speakers must have had reason to produce forms differently, and listeners must have accepted those forms as different from how they had represented them. In this talk, I present work in progress on an account of how vowel harmony arises in the phonologies of the world's languages. Speakers' contributions to phonologizing vowel harmony have long been understood: vowel-to-vowel coarticulation provides the source from which speakers begin to harmonize vowels (Ohala, 1994; i.a.). What is not well-understood is the behavior of a listener who cooperates in this harmonizing. I argue that perceptual generalization (Chladkova, 2014; Chladkova, Boersma, & Benders, 2015; Reinisch & Llompart, 2018) — when listeners use knowledge of a contrast between two categories in one part of a language's vowel space in order hear a new, analogous contrast in an as-yet unutilized part of that vowel space — provides the best evidence we have for how listeners begin to represent harmonizing vowel categories. Listeners can then become speakers with new articulatory targets, which encode vowel harmony even more strongly than the mere coarticulation from which they learned.

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