Friday Speaker Series: Florian Lionnet, Princeton University

Friday, September 29 at 3:30pm to 5:00pm

Poulton Hall, 230 1421 37th St., N.W., Washington

Subject: Phonological subfeatures: a phonetically grounded account of cumulative effects in phonology

Abstract: Categorical phonological processes (e.g. assimilation) that seem to be driven by gradient, subphonemic effects traditionally considered to fall within the domain of phonetics (e.g. coarticulation), constitute a challenge for phonological theory. Such data raise the question of the nature of phonology and its relation with phonetic substance, which has given rise to a long debate in linguistic theory, schematically opposing two types of approaches to phonology: substance-free approaches, which hold that phonetic substance is not relevant to phonological theory, and phonetically grounded approaches, for which (at least some) phonological phenomena are rooted in natural phonetic processes, such as coarticulation.

In this talk, I argue in favor of phonetic grounding, on the basis of novel data relevant to this debate: “phonological teamwork”, a cumulative effect which obtains when two segments exerting the same subphonemic coarticulatory effect may trigger a categorical phonological process (e.g. assimilation) only if they “team up” and add their coarticulatory strengths in order to pass the threshold necessary for that process to occur. Drawing from original fieldwork, I analyze a particularly rich case of teamwork: the doubly triggered rounding harmony of Laal (endangered isolate, Chad). I provide instrumental evidence that the harmony is driven by subphonemic coarticulatory effects, and propose to enrich phonology with phonetically grounded representations of such effects. Those representations do not contradict the separation of phonology and phonetics, but rather constitute a mediating interface between them. Throughout the talk, I highlight the importance of linguistic fieldwork, meticulous data collection and analysis, and detailed description of seemingly minor phenomena, for contributing to important theoretical debates.

Bio: Florian Lionnet is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Princeton University. His research focuses on sound systems (phonetics/phonology), typology, areal and historical linguistics, as well language documentation and description, with a specific focus on African languages. He is currently involved in research on understudied and endangered languages in southern Chad, which involves yearly field trips.


Georgetown College, Linguistics


Florian Lionnet

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