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Dissertation Information

Title: Generative Phonotactics Add Dissertation
Author: Kyle Gorman Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of Pennsylvania, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2013
Linguistic Subfield(s): Computational Linguistics; Phonology; Cognitive Science;
Director(s): Stephen Anderson
Mark Liberman
Eugene Buckley
Rolf Noyer
Charles Yang

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.