Listener-oriented Phonology – Paul Boersma (University of Amsterdam)

September 21, 2004 all-day

View Seminar Video
French has two kinds of vowel-initial words (normal ones and so-called “h aspire” words), which differ with respect to four phonological processes (enchaînement, liaison, elision, and schwa deletion). I will show that a speaker-based view of phonology can handle at best three of these processes, and that a listener-oriented view can handle all of them. And this is just one example among many others, which I will touch upon briefly. A suitable framework that can be turned listener-oriented is Optimality Theory. Its speaker-based version (Prince & Smolensky 1993) originally recognized two kinds of constraints: faithfulness constraints and constraints against marked structures. However, many ad-hoc constraints that do not fall in either group (namely, what I call “exclamation constraints”) have been proposed through the years as well. The authors of such constraints often display a degree of dissatisfaction with their own proposals, usually because these constraints have little applicability outside the language under discussion. This is because the usual distal task of these constraints is to express the maintenance of a language-specific contrast. I will argue that these speaker-based exclamation constraints should be replaced with “listener-oriented faithfulness” constraints. Whereas a speaker-based faithfulness constraint reads “an element X that is present in the underlying form should appear as X in the surface form”, a listener-oriented faithfulness constraint reads “an element X that is present in the underlying form should be pronounced as something that will be perceived as X by the listener”. By replacing exclamation constraints with such faithfulness constraints, their formulations become unsurprising and non-ad-hoc. The empirical gain is that the limited applicability of these constraints (namely, to cases of the maintenance of contrast) is now directly predicted by their inclusion in the faithfulness group.

Center for Language and Speech Processing