Jim Rogers

Computer Science Department, Earlham College
Talk Title: 
On the Cognitive Complexity of Phonotactic Constraints
Event Type: 
Spring 2018
Friday, March 23, 2018, 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
IACS Seminar Room

We will present a scale for classifying the complexity of phonotactic patterns that is independent of mechanisms, such as grammars and automata, for processing them.  The key characteristics underlying this measure of complexity are the features of sequences that any mechanism must be able to distinguish in order to make a judgment about whether the sequence fits a pattern or not.

We apply this classification to the stress patterns in the world's languages. In particular, the classification permits us to factor stress patterns into primitive constraints, such as "heavy syllables never occur consecutively", that have easily established cognitive complexity.  The stress patterns that have been observed in natural languages are expressible as the co-occurrence of these primitive constraints.  The complexity of those patterns is just the maximum of the complexity of its factors.

This leads us to a typology of primitive constraints that localizes the complexity of stress patterns within characteristic classes of primitive constraints.  We have categorized all of the stress patterns included in the StressTyp2 Database which covers a large proportion of the patterns occurring in human languages that have been formally characterized.  In nearly all cases (92%), the characteristic classes of the primitive constraints are at the simplest level of complexity.  The remainder depend only two well defined types of constraint: no syllable of a given type occurs in words that end in a heavy syllable with primary stress (6 lects), or the pattern depends on a hidden alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables (two lects of Arabic).

The linguistic significance of this result is that despite the stunning diversity displayed by the stress patterns in the world's languages, the analysis shows most, but not all, are uniformly simple in the kind of distinctions any mechanism must make in order to recognize whether a given sequence of syllables fits a given stress pattern or not.


You can find a copy of the slides here!