- Laboratory phonology 8
This collection of papers is the end-product of the eighth Conference on Laboratory Phonology (LabPhon), held in New Haven, Connecticut, in June 2002, and hosted by Yale University and Haskins Laboratories. The volume is dedicated to the memory of Catherine P. Browman. If the LabPhon conferences and volumes were a bit renegade when they began, they are now more of an institution. It was still unusual in the 1980s to combine phonological theorizing with experimental methods and with theories drawn from phonetics and psycholinguistics, but to do so now seems more the norm. Out of thirteen papers published in the 1989 issue of Phonology, three incorporate experimental methodologies. (I construe ‘experimental’ broadly to include, for example, gestural or neural network modeling and formal learning theory.) In 2009 it was nine out of thirteen. (Six of these were from a special issue called ‘Phonological models and experimental data’; the reader can decide whether this strengthens or weakens the point.) The early ‘labphon’ movement can take credit for much of this change. This year we should see the inaugural publication of a laboratory phonology journal to replace the published volumes. In my view, this shift to a regular, peer-reviewed, and more accessible forum is very welcome.
The book contains twenty-six contributions (including four commentary pieces) and an introduction. It is divided into three sections (two of them further subdivided): ‘Qualitative and variable faces of phonological competence’, ‘Sources of variation and their role in the acquisition of phonological competence’, and ‘Knowledge of language-specific organization of speech gestures’. I found these groupings to be nebulous; what comes through much more clearly is a second theme, on sign languages and comparisons between spoken and sign language. The deployment of laboratory methods and ‘philosophy’ in exploring sign languages is an exciting development. Other leitmotifs in the book draw on gestural phonology, exemplar modeling, acquisition, and the roles of abstract and categorical vs. concrete and gradient notions in representation and usage. Some of the papers are probably longer and less clearly written than they might be, but this is a minor complaint about a very interesting collection of works. Given space limitations here, I could not do justice to all twenty-six contributions; instead I focus on highlighting a few of them.
Mirjam Ernestus and Harald Baayen, in ‘The functionality of incomplete neutralization in Dutch: The case of past-tense formation’ (27–49), replicate, for one speaker, the finding in Warner et al. 2004, 2006 of incomplete neutralization (IN) of final devoicing in Dutch, based on a reading task involving nonce verb forms. (Unlike in Warner et al., the forms were not presented as minimal pairs.) Particularly interesting are the results of their perception experiments using the speaker’s productions as stimuli. Ernestus and Baayen show that subjects not only detected IN but also used it to choose the appropriate past-tense ending (-te or -de) for the nonce verb stimulus forms, a task that requires the listener to infer the underlying voicing of the stem-final obstruent. The authors argue that IN, as well as their perception results, are due to the storage of lexical paradigms, among other things. Consider for example the form [vεrvεit] ‘widen’ and its infinitival form [vεrvεid n]. Even if the former is stored in its surface form (contrary to the assumption of [End Page 957] most generative phonologists), both the production and the perception of its final consonant will be influenced by activation of the associated form [vεrvεid n] (see also Bybee 2001). IN has posed a serious problem for the traditional understanding of the phonology-phonetics relation, in which discrete phonology is transduced into continuous phonetics, because if /vεrvεid/ is categorically devoiced to [vεrvεit] by phonology, then phonetic implementation has no means of recovering underlying voicing in order to produce IN. The storage and use of entire paradigms circumvents this problem. Since not all...