This post was republished and archived on June 28, 2017. This page is kept for archival purposes only. Please consult this page ( for current information about forthcoming articles in Language.


Language  (Vol. 93, No. 3) September 2017

The articles below are expected to appear in the the September volume of Language. 

Expression of information structure in West Slavic: Modeling the impact of prosodic and word order factors

Šimík & Wierzba

The paper investigates the formal expression of information structure in three West Slavic languages - Czech, Slovak, and Polish. Based on acceptability rating experiments and a statistical model comparison of the results we argue that the expression of (discourse) givenness in West Slavic is primarily prosodic and only secondarily word order-based. In particular, we show that there is a clear and consistent interaction between givenness and sentence stress in the sense that given expressions must not bear sentence stress. On the other hand, the interaction between givenness and word order in the sense that given expressions must precede new ones is less pronounced and less consistent. Our conclusion sheds new light on the issue of formal expression of information structure and suggests, contrary to the prevalent view, that even in free word order languages like the Slavic languages, information structure is expressed primarily by prosody rather than by word order.


Intersecting constraint families: an argument for Harmonic Grammar

Zuraw & Hayes

In the analysis of free variation in phonology, we often encounter the effects of intersecting constraint families: there are two independent families of constraints, each of which has a quantifiable effect on the outcome. A challenge for theories is to account for the patterns that emerge from such intersection. We address three cases: Tagalog Nasal Substitution, French Liaison, and Hungarian Vowel Harmony, using corpus data. We analyze the data patterns created by intersecting families using several formal frameworks, and find that an accurate account is best based on Harmonic Grammar (in one of its two quantitative implementations). Our work also suggests that that certain lexical distinctions treated as discrete by classical phonological theory (e.g., “h aspiré” vs. ordinary vowel-initial words of French) are in fact gradient and require quantitative treatment.


Active dependency formation in islands: How grammatical resumption affects sentence processing

Keshev & Meltzer-Asscher

Previous studies concluded that despite the parser's eagerness to resolve filler-gap dependencies, in island configurations it prefers to posit late grammatical gaps over early ungrammatical ones. This study investigates the possibility of predicting resumptive pronouns (RP) in Hebrew islands. We investigated the acceptability of RPs in two islands, and the sensitivity of online dependency formation to the status of those RPs. Results revealed a "filled-gap effect" inside the island that allows RPs but not in the island that prohibits them. This suggests that the parser prefers an early RP in Hebrew islands over a later gap, and that these RPs are not used to retrieve an inaccessible filler.


The medium-term dynamics of accents on reality television

Sonderegger, Bane & Graff

How flexible is an individual’s accent during adulthood, and how does this flexibility relate to longer-term change? Previous work has found that accents are remarkably flexible in conversational interaction, but predominantly stable over years, leading to very different views of the role of individuals in community-level sound change. This paper examines medium-term accent dynamics (days to months) by taking advantage of a ‘natural experiment’: a reality television show where contestants live in an isolated house for three months and are constantly recorded, forming a closed system where it is possible to both determine the dynamics of contestants’ speech from day to day and reason about the sources of any observed changes. We build statistical models to examine whether five phonetic variables show time dependence within individuals, in a large dataset of spontaneous speech from 12 English-speaking contestants. We find that time dependence in pronunciation is ubiquitous over the medium term: large daily fluctuations in pronunciation are the norm, while longer-term change over weeks to months occurs in a minority of cases. These patterns mirror the conflicting findings of previous work, and suggest a possible bridge between the two. Time dependence in phonetic variables is influenced by their role in phonological contrasts, as well as systematic differences between speakers in how malleable their accent is over time (across variables); however, we find only limited evidence for convergence in individuals’ accents. Our results have implications for theories of the role of individuals in sound change, as well as practical implications for longitudinal studies in sociolinguistics and phonetics.


Influence of predicate sense on sign order

Napoli, Sutton-Spence & Quadros

We present evidence for the influence of semantics on the order of subject, object, and verb in Brazilian Sign Language (Libras) sentences. While some have noted a prevailing pattern of SVO in Libras, we find a strong tendency for this order in sentences that do not presuppose the existence of the verb’s object, but not in sentences that do, which, instead, favour SOV. These findings are coherent with those of a recent study on gesture. We argue that the variable influence of the relevant predicates is particularly salient in sign languages, due to the iconic nature of the visual modality.


Informativity and the actuation of lenition

Uriel Cohen Priva

What causes Indonesian to lenite word-final /k/, American English to lenite word-final /t/, and Spanish to lenite word-final /s/? This paper shows that all three observed lenition patterns can be motivated using a single principle: languages preferentially lenite segments that provide relatively low informativity compared to other languages. Compared to a diverse sample of seven languages from the LDC CALLHOME and CALLFRIEND corpora, Indonesian /k/, American English /t/, and Spanish /s/ have the lowest informativity, predicting that they would be more likely to be affected by sound change processes affecting those segments, respectively. In a subsequent controlled corpus study, low informativity predicted the propensity of word-final lenition of all obstruents in American English after phonetic and phonological factors were controlled for. The paper therefore provides a partial solution to the famous actuation problem [@Weinreich1968] with respect to the actuation of lenition processes.


Teaching Linguistics 

Constructed Languages in the Classroom

Nathan Sanders

Constructed languages (purposefully invented languages like Esperanto and Klingon) have long captured the human imagination. They can also be used as pedagogical tools in the linguistics classroom to enhance how certain aspects of linguistics are taught and to broaden the appeal of linguistics as a field. In this paper, I discuss the history and nature of constructed languages and describe various ways I have successfully brought them into use in the linguistics classroom. I conclude from the results of my courses that linguists should take a closer look at how they might benefit from similarly enlisting this often criticized hobby into more mainstream use in the linguistics classroom.


Historical Syntax

The loss of V-to-C in the history of Portuguese: Subject position, clitic placement and prosody.

Galves & De Sousa

This paper analyses the changes in subject position in Portuguese between the 16th  and 19th centuries in terms of the loss of  V2/V-to-C and the raise of SVO/non V-to-C. We argue that in Classical Portuguese (16th-17th centuries), the preverbal position is reserved for discourse prominent constituents, whereas in Modern European Portuguese, it is reserved for subjects. Our analysis is based on the claim that V2/V-to-C in pro-drop languages is totally dependent on discourse conditions, and consequently, on prosody. We suggest that the change from V2 into SVO in Portuguese derived from a prosodic change that happened in the 17th century, which also affected clitic placement.