OCP-Place, Similarity, and Multiplicative Interaction – Colin Wilson (Johns Hopkins University)

October 21, 2008 all-day

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Generative linguistics studies the variation across languages and the laws (or universals) that limit cross-linguistic variation. The OCP-Place constraint, which is violated by sequences of consonants that have different tokens of the same place of articulation, is a good candidate for a linguistic law (Konstantin & Segerer 2007). However, beginning with the introduction of OCP-Place by McCarthy (1988) (building on observations due to Greenberg 1950) many researchers have claimed that the specific form of the constraint varies considerably across languages. In essence, the purported variation centers on how similar two consonants of the same place must be with respect to other features in order for the constraint to register a violation. I argue in this talk that a single definition of similarity — the natural classes similarity metric introduced by Frisch et al. (2004) — is consistent with the effects of OCP-Place in the languages that have been studied, and possibly in all languages. Apparent counterexamples, and particularly the recent case study of Muna (Austronesian) by Coetzee & Pater (2008), are shown to be artifacts of an inconsistent statistical method. A multiplicative, or log-linear, model of constraint interaction is able to maintain a universal formulation of OCP-Place and derive apparent variation from independent constraints.
Colin Wilson received a Ph.D. in Cognitive Science from Johns Hopkins in 2000. He was a member of the Linguistics department at UCLA from 2000 to 2007, and rejoined the Cognitive Science department as Associate Professor this semester. His most recent work focuses on the typology, gradient interaction, and learning of natural language phonotactics.

Center for Language and Speech Processing