Douglas Pulleyblank


Research Classification

Research Interests

African languages

Relevant Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters



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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2020)
Syntax, prosody, and metrical structure in Blackfoot (2020)

This dissertation investigates the correspondences between syntactic, prosodic, and metrical constituents in Blackfoot (Algonquian), a polysynthetic language. I propose that the syntax-prosody correspondence is distinct from the alignment of prosodic and metrical structure. In a parallel constraint-based model of phonology, this predicts that a language might satisfy isomorphic syntax-prosody correspondence at the expense of prosodic and metrical alignment, or vice versa. To determine the generalizations in Blackfoot, I gathered data by conducting fieldwork with speakers and consulting published reference materials. Some arguments in the dissertation are based on original morphological and phonological analyses of Blackfoot stems.For the syntax-prosody correspondence, I hypothesize that each syntactic phase corresponds to a particular prosodic constituent by default. Specifically, the vP phase (the predicate of events), matches to a Prosodic Word (PWd) constituent, and the DP and CP phases match to Phonological Phrase (PPh) constituents. I model these relationships using a modified version of Match Theory (Selkirk 2011), where mismatches between syntactic phases and prosodic structure only occur in order to satisfy prosodic wellformedness constraints. For the relation between prosody and metrical structure, I hypothesize that the edges of metrical constituents align to different prosodic constituents (prosodic word, phonological phrase, or intonational phrase).Regarding structure in Blackfoot, I argue that a constraint which requires sister nodes within the prosodic structure to be of the same type outranks the syntax-prosody MATCH constraints. This forces each DP argument and also the remainder of the CP (e.g. the verbal complex) to be matched to a PPh constituent. The vP phase and every higher vP projection corresponds to a PWd constituent, which is distinct from the PPh. I argue that the metrical constituents in Blackfoot align to PPh edges, and that syllables frequently span PWd edges. This is a predicted outcome, given that the MATCH and ALIGN constraints are violable. The model I propose accounts for the correspondence relations in Blackfoot, and leads to a typology of predicted language types, with implications for extending Match Theory to account for polysynthetic languages.

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Perception of lexical tones by homeland and heritage speakers of Cantonese (2019)

This dissertation compares the lexical tone perception abilities of two populations with different bilingual configurations: Cantonese-dominant adults who grew up in Hong Kong (referred to as homeland speakers), and English-dominant adults who grew up in a Cantonese-speaking household in Canada (heritage speakers). From infancy both were exposed to Cantonese as a first language in terms of chronological order; however, after the onset of schooling, each became dominant in the majority language of their respective society. Given this background, this study investigates whether heritage speakers' perception of lexical tones of a non-dominant first language (Cantonese) exhibits cross-language effects from a dominant second language (English) that does not have a contrastive dimension of tone. A series of perception experiments was conducted using the word identification paradigm. Eight types of audio stimuli were presented to homeland and heritage speakers (N=34 per group), each of which represented a specific configuration of four variables: whether the acoustic signal contained segmental and tonal information, whether the target word was isolated or embedded in a carrier sentence with semantic context, and whether the meaning of the target word was congruous with the carrier sentence. In each trial, participants saw pictures of the target word and minimally contrastive tonal competitors, and were instructed to choose the picture that represented what they heard.Major findings of this study were: (1) among the eight stimulus types, the accuracy gap between the two groups was the biggest when the stimuli were low-pass-filtered monosyllables with no segmental information or semantic context, which suggests that homeland speakers have a significantly greater ability to identify tonally contrastive words by solely relying on tonal information. (2) Both groups showed confusion of overlapping subsets of tone pairs, but heritage speakers had a higher error percentage, which indicates a quantitative but not qualitative difference between the two groups. (3) When the target word was semantically incongruous with the carrier sentence, homeland speakers outperformed heritage speakers by attending to acoustic information, while heritage speakers relied on semantic information relatively more often. In other words, the two groups used different listening strategies in tone identification.

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Bayesian models of learning and generating inflectional morphology (2016)

In many languages of the world, the form of individual words can undergo systematic variation in order to express concepts including tense, gender, and relative social status. Accurate models of these inflectional systems, such as verb conjugation and noun declension systems, are indispensable for purposes of both languageresearch and language technology development. This dissertation presents a theoretical framework for understanding and predicting native speakers’ use of their languages’ inflectional systems. I propose a probabilistic interpretation of the task that speakers face when inferring unfamiliar inflected forms, and I argue in favor of a Bayesian approach to modeling this task. Specifically, I develop the theory of sublexical morphology, which augments the Bayesian approach with intuitive methods for calculating necessary probabilities. Sublexical morphology also possesses the virtue of computational implementability: this dissertation defines all data structures used in sublexical morphology, and it specifies the procedures necessary to use a model for morphological inference. I provide along with this dissertation a Python package that implements all the classes and methods necessary to perform inference with a sublexical morphology model. I also describe an implemented learning algorithm that allows induction of sublexical morphology models from labeled but unparsed training data. As empirical support for my core claims, I describe the outcomes of two behavioral experiments. Evidence from a test of Icelandic speakers’ inflection of novelwords demonstrates that speakers are able to additively make use of informationfrom multiple provided inflected forms of a word, and evidence from a similar teston Polish speakers suggests that speakers may be limited to this additive way ofcombining such pieces of information. In clear support of a Bayesian interpretationof morphological inference, both experiments additionally demonstrate that priorprobabilities—understood as reflecting lexical frequencies of different groupingsof words—play a major role in speakers’ use of their inflectional systems. This isshown to be true even when influence from prior probabilities results in speakersapparently deviating from exceptionless lexical patterns in those systems.

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"Placeless" consonants in Japanese: An ultrasonic investigation (2013)

This dissertation investigates the place of articulation of allegedly ‘placeless’ consonants of Japanese - the moraic nasal /N/ and the glottal fricative /h/. In the discipline of phonology, these two consonants have typically been analyzed as having no place features of their own, on the grounds that their place features are predictable from the adjacent segments, that they often appear as outputs of debuccalization, and that they show high articulatory variability. While some researchers believe that certain segments are placeless both phonologically and phonetically, it has not been examined how these Japanese consonants appear in the surface phonetics. The current research instrumentally tests the hypothesis that they have articulatory targets, based on qualitative and quantitative examination of data produced by native speakers of Japanese. Such a study is important in order to fill the scientific gap between the phonological theories and phonetic approaches to the study of sounds. Ultrasound experiments were conducted on six native speakers of Tokyo Japanese, and the tongue movement was analyzed. The tracing of the overall tongue configurations on the ultrasound imaging was done by EdgeTrak (Stone 2005). The data for placeless segments were compared to those for the adjacent vowels, in terms of tongue shape, constriction degree and constriction location. The results involve three significant points: First, /N/ shows a significant dorsum raising for all speakers, while /h/ shows a pharyngeal constriction for 5 out of 6 speakers. Second, the constriction location is different across speakers: The location of /N/ ranges from post-alveolar to uvular, and the location of /h/ is either uvular or pharyngeal. Third, /N/ and /h/ had no more variability than /k/, which is widely assumed to be a velar-specified segment. This research empirically confirms that these two segments are articulatorily stable within a speaker but variable across speakers. This contradicts long-standing views about the segments in question. The individual variability may also lend support for the phonologization of different phonetic interpretations. Finally, the place-features of these same segments could be different across languages, and further instrumental studies of these sounds are encouraged.

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Dagbani tongue-root harmony: a formal account with ultrasound investigation (2010)

The aim of this dissertation is (i) to contribute to understanding of [ATR] harmony patterns with a formal account of Dagbani [ATR] harmony using the theory of Headed Spans (Span Theory) and (ii) to answer basic empirical questions about the relations between tongue-root phonological features and the articulatory gestures involved in producing vowels with these features.In Dagbani [+ATR] harmony, there are three vowel triggers: the high front vowel /i/ triggers progressive assimilation of [+ATR]; the mid vowels [e] and [o] trigger regressive assimilation. Mid vowel triggers predictably surface in domain-final open syllables while /i/ is contrastive. I account for [+ATR] harmony using the theory of Grounded Phonology and the interaction of height-based markedness constraint hierarchies. In addition to the basic harmonic patterns, Dagbani [ATR] harmony is constrained by a height similarity condition limiting the trigger and target to vowels of the same specification for [±high]. Within Span Theory, this is argued to be a restriction on height featural combination in a [+ATR] span. A unique part of the formal analysis is the account of direction-specific consonant opacity. Having challenged previous harmony theories, the account here demonstrates the relative strength of Span Theory and supports the assumption that intervocalic consonants are targets of vowel harmony features.The second goal of the dissertation is achieved with an ultrasound imaging study testing the hypothesis that there is a direct mapping between tongue-root features and the articulatory positions of the tongue in producing vowels with different tongue-root feature specifications. It further investigates whether such a mapping also reflects which of the values of the feature [ATR]/[RTR] is dominant in a language. The results of 5 experiments show that in addition to the tongue-root position distinguishing [+ATR] from[-ATR] vowels, the dominant [+ATR] feature has a tongue-root position anterior to the neutral tongue-root rest position while the recessive [-ATR] vowels have a variable tongue-root position. The results support a direct mapping between the phonological feature [ATR] and the articulatory gestures that produce it.

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Shona Morphophonemics: Repair Strategies in Karanga and Zezuru (2010)

This thesis investigates how Shona, an African language spoken in Zimbabwe deals with potentially onsetless syllables (heterosyllabic VV sequences & initial onsetless syllables) and subminimal words. The thesis focuses on the morphophonemics of Karanga and Zezuru—the two principal dialects of Shona. Karanga and Zezuru morphophonemic processes observed in this thesis have only one primary goal; to achieve the typical or preferred Shona phonological structures—the consonant-vowel (CV) syllable and the disyllabic Prosodic Word. Often, when morphemes are concatenated, the resultant phonological structures do not conform to these typical structures. The study examines the repair strategies that Karanga and Zezuru employ to achieve the CV syllable and the disyllabic Prosodic Word. The overall analysis is couched in Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky (2004 [1993].Hiatus resolution strategies are conditioned by prosodic domains/boundaries, and a detailed prosodic parsing is required to account for this phenomenon. The Prosodic Stem, Prosodic Word and the Clitic Group are the prosodic domains relevant for this study. Owing to the impossibility of unifying the cliticization and coalescence facts with the other strategies in a single constraint ranking, two strata are posited—the Word (lexical) and the Phrasal (Postlexical) using the Lexical Phonology and Morphology-Optimality Theory (Kiparsky 2000, 2003). At the Word level, Glide formation is the default strategy, and at the Phrasal level, it is coalescence. Employing the Clements and Hume (1995) Unified Feature Geometry model, with the addition of the feature [pharyngeal], all the hiatus-breakers [j w ʔ ɦ] are analyzed as products of spreading.Karanga and Zezuru display greater variation with respect to prosodic minimality and initial onsetless syllables than in hiatus resolution. It is argued that Zezuru enforces WORD MINIMALITY at the expense of ONSET, and Karanga enforces ONSET at the expense of WORD MINIMALITY. Karanga displays internal variation; it allows initial onsetless syllables in function words but not in lexical ones. Based on tone, reduplication, minimality and cliticization, initial onsetless syllables are argued to be morified, syllabified and not extra-prosodic and therefore do not warrant any special representation.

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The interaction of metrical structure, tone, and phonation in Quiavini Zapotec (2010)

This thesis investigates the interaction between different prosodic patterns in Quiaviní Zapotec (Otomanguean), and accounts for them both at the phonetic and the phonological level. In it, I examine an array of complex patterns along multiple dimensions, including metrical structure, tone, and phonation types; as well as how these patterns interact with the fortis/lenis distinction, and syllable structure. Within the framework of Optimality Theory, my analysis sheds light on the phonetics-phonology interface and emphasizes the need for a theory with moraic structure. This dissertation presents the first thorough phonetic documentation of the prosody of Quiaviní Zapotec. It makes a significant empirical contribution by providing descriptive generalizations of vowel and consonant length, a reanalysis of tone as contrastive in Quiaviní Zapotec, and a new approach to the study of the four-way phonation contrast in this language — modal /a/, breathy /a̤/, creaky /a̰/ and interrupted /aʔ/ vowels — (cf. Munro & Lopez, 1999). In addition, this research makes significant contributions to phonological theory, with regards to both segmental and prosodic phenomena. Within an emergent feature approach, I revisit the fortis/lenis distinction, which crosscuts the obstruent-sonorant contrast in Quiaviní Zapotec. I analyze it as a composite of language-specific phonological and phonetic properties, encoded with the feature [+/-fortis]. Adding to the typology of syllable weight, fortis consonants are analyzed as moraic in coda position, but among them, only fortis sonorants may bear tone alongside vowels (i.e. *[-SON][TONE] ‘No tones on obstruents’). Furthermore, I show specific timing patterns for the phonetic implementation of tonal and laryngeal features. Quiaviní Zapotec exhibits compatibility of contrasts; compromise of phonological features (e.g. tonal contrasts are cued during modal phonation, followed by breathiness or laryngealization); or complete incompatibility, which translates into phonemic gaps. This distribution is formalized in terms of markedness interaction and grounded constraints (e.g. ‘If [+spread glottis], then Low tone’, accounting for the absence of high tone with breathy vowels). Overall, the thesis analyzes the minimal prosodic word in Quiaviní Zapotec (a bimoraic foot) as the domain where the full array of tonal and phonation type contrasts takes place, and illustrates particular mechanisms by which phonetic factors shape phonology.

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Non-exhaustive parsing : phonetic and phonological evidence from St'át'imcets (2009)

This thesis tests the prediction of the Prosodic Hierarchy model that distinct phonological domains have distinct acoustic characteristics. Specifically, I test the prediction that if non-exhaustively parsed structures are permitted by the model, there should be converging phonological and phonetic evidence that distinguishes them from exhaustively parsed domains. Little phonological and no phonetic evidence has previously been provided to substantiate the proposed structures. I introduce the term ‘extrapod’ to refer to syllables that are not parsed at the foot level and present phonological and phonetic evidence from St’át’imcets (Lillooet Salish) that shows that extrapods are distinguished from exhaustively parsed domains, as predicted. Empirically, this thesis presents the first phonetic documentation of the prosody of St’át’imcets, including phrase-level intonation, stress and boundary effects. The results of this research are intended to both add to the documentation of an endangered language and benefit the community.Theoretically, this thesis confirms a previously untested prediction of current models of prosody, namely that non-exhaustively parsed structures are distinct from exhaustively parsed structures. Results from the investigation of segmental phonological processes, and acoustic correlates of prominence and boundary strength, support a weak but constrained interpretation of the phonetics-phonology mapping.Methodologically, this thesis develops protocols that elicit rigorous phonetic data while being suitable for fieldwork with First Nations elders, and that can be easily adapted into language teaching materials. The combination of verbal and pictoral contexts allows for controlled repetitions of tokens in natural linguistic contexts and provides materials that can be adapted for classroom use.

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Theoretical aspects of Gitksan phonology (2009)

This thesis deals with the phonology of Gitksan, a Tsimshianic language spoken innorthern British Columbia, Canada. The claim of this thesis is that Gitksan exhibits severalgradient phonological restrictions on consonantal cooccurrence that hold over the lexicon.There is a gradient restriction on homorganic consonants, and within homorganic pairs, thereis a gradient restriction on major class and manner features. It is claimed that theserestrictions are due to a generalized OCP effect in the grammar, and that this effect can berelativized to subsidiary features, such as place, manner, etc. It is argued that these types ofeffects are best analyzed with the system of weighted constraints employed in HarmonicGrammar (Legendre et al. 1990, Smolensky & Legendre 2006).It is also claimed that Gitksan exhibits a gradient assimilatory effect among specificconsonants. This type of effect is rare, and is unexpected given the general conditions ofdissimilation. One such effect is the frequency of both pulmonic pairs of consonants andejective pairs of consonants, which occur at rates higher than expected by chance. Another isthe occurrence of uvular-uvular and velar-velar pairs of consonants, which also occur at rateshigher than chance. This pattern is somewhat surprising, as there is a gradient prohibition oncooccurring pairs of dorsal consonants. These assimilatory patterns are analyzed using theAgreement by Correspondence approach (Hansson 2001, Rose & Walker 2004), whichmandates that output correspondents agree for some phonological feature.The general discussion of assimilation and dissimilation is continued inmorphological contexts, such as reduplication. It is claimed there are differences in thegradient and categorical patterns of assimilation and dissimilation in Coast Tsimshian andGitksan reduplicative contexts. A summary of the attested reduplicative patterns in thelanguages, as well as results from a nonce-probe task, supports this claim. This differencebetween Coast Tsimshian and Gitksan is indicative of a larger difference in the reduplicativepatterns of the languages of the Tsimshianic family: each member of the family exhibitsslightly different patterns of deglottalization. A typological study of these patterns suggeststhat glottalized sonorants and obstruents are fundamentally different segment types.

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