Arthur Seymour Abramson (1925–2017) was an American linguist who was prominent in the international experimental phonetics research community. He was best known for his pioneering work, with Leigh Lisker, on voice onset time (VOT), and for his many years spent studying tone and voice quality in languages such as Thai. Born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey, Abramson served several years in the Army during World War II. Upon his return to civilian life, he attended Columbia University (BA, 1950; PhD, 1960). There he met Franklin Cooper, an adjunct who taught acoustic phonetics while also working for Haskins Laboratories. Abramson started working on a part-time basis at Haskins and remained affiliated with the institution until his death. For his doctoral dissertation (1962), he studied the vowels and tones of the Thai language, which would sit at the heart of his research and travels for the rest of his life. He would expand his investigations to include various languages and dialects, such as Pattani Malay and the Kuai dialect of Suai, a Mon-Khmer language. Abramson began his collaboration with University Pennsylvania linguist Leigh Lisker at Haskins Laboratories in the 1960s. Using their unique VOT technique, a sensitive measure of the articulatory timing between an occlusion in the vocal tract and the beginning of phonation (characterized by the onset of vibration of the vocal folds), they studied the voicing distinctions of various languages. Their long standing collaboration continued until Lisker’s death in 2006. Abramson and colleagues often made innovative use of state-of-art tools and technologies in their work, including transillumination of the larynx in running speech, X-ray movies of speakers in several languages/dialects, electroglottography, and articulatory speech synthesis. Abramson’s career was also notable for the academic and scientific service roles that he assumed, including membership on the council of the International Phonetic Association (IPA), and as a coordinator of the effort to revise the International Phonetic Alphabet at the IPA’s 1989 Kiel Convention. He was also editor of the journal Language and Speech, and took on leadership roles at the Linguistic Society of America and the Acoustical Society of America. He was the founding Chair of the Linguistics Department at the University of Connecticut, which became a hotbed for research in experimental phonetics in the 1970s and 1980s because of its many affiliations with Haskins Laboratories. He also served for many years as a board member at Haskins, and Secretary of both the Board and the Haskins Corporation, where he was a friend and mentor to many.
Yvan Rose, Laetitia Almeida, and Maria João Freitas
The field of study on the acquisition of phonological productive abilities by first-language learners in the Romance languages has been largely focused on three main languages: French, Portuguese, and Spanish, including various dialects of these languages spoken in Europe as well as in the Americas. In this article, we provide a comparative survey of this literature, with an emphasis on representational phonology. We also include in our discussion observations from the development of Catalan and Italian, and mention areas where these languages, as well as Romanian, another major Romance language, would provide welcome additions to our cross-linguistic comparisons. Together, the various studies we summarize reveal intricate patterns of development, in particular concerning the acquisition of consonants across different positions within the syllable, the word, and in relation to stress, documented from both monolingual and bilingual first-language learners can be found. The patterns observed across the different languages and dialects can generally be traced to formal properties of phone distributions, as entailed by mainstream theories of phonological representation, with variations also predicted by more functional aspects of speech, including phonetic factors and usage frequency. These results call for further empirical studies of phonological development, in particular concerning Romanian, in addition to Catalan and Italian, whose phonological and phonetic properties offer compelling grounds for the formulation and testing of models of phonology and phonological development.
A number of recent developments in phonological theory, beginning with The Sound Pattern of English, are particularly relevant to the phonology of compounds. They address both the phonological phenomena that apply to compound words and the phonological structures that are required as the domains of these phenomena: segmental and nonsegmental phenomena that operate within each member of a compound separately, as well as at the juncture between the members of compounds and throughout compounds as a whole. In all cases, what is crucial for the operation of the phonological phenomena of compounds is phonological structure, in terms of constituents of the Prosodic Hierarchy, as opposed to morphosyntactic structure. Specifically, only two phonological constituents are required, the Phonological Word, which provides the domain for phenomena that apply to the individual members of compounds and at their junctures, and a larger constituent that groups the members of compounds together. The nature of the latter is somewhat controversial, the main issue being whether or not there is a constituent in the Prosodic Hierarchy between the Phonological Word and the Phonological Phrase. When present, this constituent, the Composite Group (revised from the original Clitic Group), includes the members of compounds, as well as “stray” elements such as clitics and “Level 2” affixes. In its absence, compounds, and often the same “stray” elements, are analyzed as a type of Recursive Phonological Word, although crucially, the combinations of such element do not exhibit the same properties as the basic Phonological Word.
Topic and topicalization are key notions to understand processes of syntactic and prosodic readjustments in Romance. More specifically, topicalization refers to the syntactic mechanisms and constructions available in a language to mark an expression as the topic of the sentence. Despite the lack of a uniform definition of topic, often based on the notions of aboutness or givenness, significant advances have been made in Romance linguistics since the 1990s, yielding a better understanding of the topicalization constructions, their properties, and their grammatical correlates. Prosodically, topics are generally described as being contained in independent intonational phrases. The syntactic and pragmatic characteristics of a specific topicalization construction, by contrast, depend both on the form of resumption of the dislocated topic within the clause and on the types of topic (aboutness, given, and contrastive topics). We can thus distinguish between hanging topic (left dislocation) (HTLD) and clitic left-dislocation (ClLD) for sentence-initial topics, and clitic right-dislocation (ClRD) for sentence-final dislocated constituents. These topicalization constructions are available in most Romance languages, although variation may affect the type and the obligatory presence of the resumptive element. Scholars working on topic and topicalization in the Romance languages have also addressed controversial issues such as the relation between topics and subjects, both grammatical (nominative) subjects and ‘oblique’ subjects such as dative experiencers and locative expressions. Moreover, topicalization has been discussed for medieval Romance, in conjunction with its alleged V2 syntactic status. Some topicalization constructions such as subject inversion, especially in the non-null subject Romance languages, and Resumptive Preposing may indeed be viewed as potential residues of medieval V2 property in contemporary Romance.
One of the most fundamental problems in research on spoken language is to understand how the categorical, systemic knowledge that speakers have in the form of a phonological grammar maps onto the continuous, high-dimensional physical speech act that transmits the linguistic message. The invariant units of phonological analysis have no invariant analogue in the signal—any given phoneme can manifest itself in many possible variants, depending on context, speech rate, utterance position and the like, and the acoustic cues for a given phoneme are spread out over time across multiple linguistic units. Speakers and listeners are highly knowledgeable about the lawfully structured variation in the signal and they skillfully exploit articulatory and acoustic trading relations when speaking and perceiving. For the scientific description of spoken language understanding this association between abstract, discrete categories and continuous speech dynamics remains a formidable challenge. Articulatory Phonology and the associated Task Dynamic model present one particular proposal on how to step up to this challenge using the mathematics of dynamical systems with the central insight being that spoken language is fundamentally based on the production and perception of linguistically defined patterns of motion. In Articulatory Phonology, primitive units of phonological representation are called gestures. Gestures are defined based on linear second order differential equations, giving them inherent spatial and temporal specifications. Gestures control the vocal tract at a macroscopic level, harnessing the many degrees of freedom in the vocal tract into low-dimensional control units. Phonology, in this model, thus directly governs the spatial and temporal orchestration of vocal tract actions.
Tone is indispensable for understanding many morphological systems of the world. Tonal phenomena may serve the morphological needs of a language in a variety of ways: segmental affixes may be specified for tone just like roots are; affixes may have purely tonal exponents that associate to segmental material provided by other morphemes; affixes may consist of tonal melodies, or “templates”; and tonal processes may apply in a way that is sensitive to morphosyntactic boundaries, delineating word-internal structure. Two behaviors set tonal morphemes apart from other kinds of affixes: their mobility and their ability to apply phrasally (i.e., beyond the limits of the word). Both floating tones and tonal templates can apply to words that are either phonologically grouped with the word containing the tonal morpheme or syntactically dependent on it. Problems generally associated with featural morphology are even more acute in regard to tonal morphology because of the vast diversity of tonal phenomena and the versatility with which the human language faculty puts pitch to use. The ambiguity associated with assigning a proper role to tone in a given morphological system necessitates placing further constraints on our theory of grammar. Perhaps more than any other morphological phenomena, grammatical tone exposes an inadequacy in our understanding both of the relationship between phonological and morphological modules of grammar and of the way that phonology may reference morphological information.
Subtraction consists in shortening the shape of the word. It operates on morphological bases such as roots, stems, and words in word-formation and inflection. Cognitively, subtraction is the opposite of affixation, since the latter adds meaning and form (an overt affix) to roots, stems, or words, while the former adds meaning through subtraction of form. As subtraction and affixation work at the same level of grammar (morphology), they sometimes compete for the expression of the same semantics in the same language, for example, the pattern ‘science—scientist’ in German has derivations such as Physik ‘physics’—Physik-er ‘physicist’ and Astronom-ie ‘astronomy’—Astronom ‘astronomer’. Subtraction can delete phonemes and morphemes. In case of phoneme deletion, it is usually the final phoneme of a morphological base that is deleted and sometimes that phoneme can coincide with a morpheme. Some analyses of subtraction(-like shortenings) rely not on morphological units (roots, stems, morphological words, affixes) but on the phonological word, which sometimes results in alternative definitions of subtraction. Additionally, syntax-based theories of morphology that do not recognize a morphological component of grammar and operate only with additive syntactic rules claim that subtraction actually consists in addition of defective phonological material that causes adjustments in phonology and leads to deletion of form on the surface. Other scholars postulate subtraction only if the deleted material does not coincide with an existing morpheme elsewhere in the language and if it does, they call the change backformation. There is also some controversy regarding what is a proper word-formation process and whether what is derived by subtraction is true word-formation or just marginal or extragrammatical morphology; that is, the question is whether shortenings such as hypocoristics and clippings should be treated on par with derivations such as, for example, the pattern of science-scientist. Finally, research in subtraction also faces terminology issues in the sense that in the literature different labels have been used to refer to subtraction(-like) formations: minus feature, minus formation, disfixation, subtractive morph, (subtractive) truncation, backformation, or just shortening.
Due to the agglutinative character, Japanese and Ryukyuan morphology is predominantly concatenative, applying to garden-variety word formation processes such as compounding, prefixation, suffixation, and inflection, though nonconcatenative morphology like clipping, blending, and reduplication is also available and sometimes interacts with concatenative word formation. The formal simplicity of the principal morphological devices is counterbalanced by their complex interaction with syntax and semantics as well as by the intricate interactions of four lexical strata (native, Sino-Japanese, foreign, and mimetic) with particular morphological processes. A wealth of phenomena is adduced that pertain to central issues in theories of morphology, such as the demarcation between words and phrases; the feasibility of the lexical integrity principle; the controversy over lexicalism and syntacticism; the distinction of morpheme-based and word-based morphology; the effects of the stage-level vs. individual-level distinction on the applicability of morphological rules; the interface of morphology, syntax, and semantics, and pragmatics; and the role of conjugation and inflection in predicate agglutination. In particular, the formation of compound and complex verbs/adjectives takes place in both lexical and syntactic structures, and the compound and complex predicates thus formed are further followed in syntax by suffixal predicates representing grammatical categories like causative, passive, negation, and politeness as well as inflections of tense and mood to form a long chain of predicate complexes. In addition, an array of morphological objects—bound root, word, clitic, nonindependent word or fuzoku-go, and (for Japanese) word plus—participate productively in word formation. The close association of morphology and syntax in Japonic languages thus demonstrates that morphological processes are spread over lexical and syntactic structures, whereas words are equipped with the distinct property of morphological integrity, which distinguishes them from syntactic phrases.
D. H. Whalen
The Motor Theory of Speech Perception is a proposed explanation of the fundamental relationship between the way speech is produced and the way it is perceived. Associated primarily with the work of Liberman and colleagues, it posited the active participation of the motor system in the perception of speech. Early versions of the theory contained elements that later proved untenable, such as the expectation that the neural commands to the muscles (as seen in electromyography) would be more invariant than the acoustics. Support drawn from categorical perception (in which discrimination is quite poor within linguistic categories but excellent across boundaries) was called into question by studies showing means of improving within-category discrimination and finding similar results for nonspeech sounds and for animals perceiving speech. Evidence for motor involvement in perceptual processes nonetheless continued to accrue, and related motor theories have been proposed. Neurological and neuroimaging results have yielded a great deal of evidence consistent with variants of the theory, but they highlight the issue that there is no single “motor system,” and so different components appear in different contexts. Assigning the appropriate amount of effort to the various systems that interact to result in the perception of speech is an ongoing process, but it is clear that some of the systems will reflect the motor control of speech.
Bracketing paradoxes—constructions whose morphosyntactic and morpho-phonological structures appear to be irreconcilably at odds (e.g., unhappier)—are unanimously taken to point to truths about the derivational system that we have not yet grasped. Consider that the prefix un- must be structurally separate in some way from happier both for its own reasons (its [n] surprisingly does not assimilate in Place to a following consonant (e.g., u[n]popular)), and for reasons external to the prefix (the suffix -er must be insensitive to the presence of un-, as the comparative cannot attach to bases of three syllables or longer (e.g., *intelligenter)). But, un- must simultaneously be present in the derivation before -er is merged, so that unhappier can have the proper semantic reading (‘more unhappy’, and not ‘not happier’). Bracketing paradoxes emerged as a problem for generative accounts of both morphosyntax and morphophonology only in the 1970s. With the rise of restrictions on and technology used to describe and represent the behavior of affixes (e.g., the Affix-Ordering Generalization, Lexical Phonology and Morphology, the Prosodic Hierarchy), morphosyntacticians and phonologists were confronted with this type of inconsistent derivation in many unrelated languages.