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Award Abstract #1147083

Effects of Syntactic Constituency on Phonology and Phonetics of Tone

Division Of Behavioral and Cognitive Sci
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Initial Amendment Date: June 25, 2012
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Latest Amendment Date: July 31, 2013
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Award Number: 1147083
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Award Instrument: Continuing grant
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Program Manager: Joan Maling
BCS Division Of Behavioral and Cognitive Sci
SBE Direct For Social, Behav & Economic Scie
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Start Date: July 1, 2012
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End Date: December 31, 2016 (Estimated)
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Awarded Amount to Date: $499,056.00
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Investigator(s): Elisabeth Selkirk selkirk@linguist.umass.edu (Principal Investigator)
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Sponsor: University of Massachusetts Amherst
Research Administration Building
AMHERST, MA 01003-9242 (413)545-0698
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Program Reference Code(s): 1311, 7719, 9178, 9179, SMET
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Program Element Code(s): 1311, 7719


This research project investigates the question of just how the syntactic structure of a sentence can affect its pronunciation. The project will make coordinated fieldwork investigations of four languages with diverse syntactic properties (Northern Bizkaian Basque, Xitsonga, Luganda, Irish) in which the distribution of tone is known to be particularly revealing of the general role for syntactic constituent structure in determining the pronunciation of sentences. In these languages the location of the left and/or right edges of phrase-sized constituents is indicated by tonal and other phonological phenomena (insertion of tones at phrase edges, lengthening of the penultimate vowel, etc.) Moreover these languages are known to display phonological effects associated with a distinct, larger, clause-level type of constituent. So data from the pronunciation of sentences in these languages can reveal just what types of syntactic phrases or syntactic clauses count as "domains" for phonology. These domain-sensitive phenomena can moreover provide a tool for assessing whether a purely syntax-based theory of phonological domain structure is adequate as a theory of the distribution of these phenomena in a sentence, or whether appeal also has to be made to properly phonological constraints on domain structure, such as those expressing preference for certain rhythmic patterns.

The collaborative teamwork planned will provide unique training opportunities for both graduate students and faculty in the collection and analysis of complex data from the syntax-phonology interface. The training of these experts and the databases to be made publicly available will provide a foundation for further advances in the theoretical understanding of this relatively understudied aspect of grammar. Moreover, the data collected will serve to document sentence pronunciation in languages that are currently understudied and/or endangered and so will help contribute to efforts to keep the knowledge of the unique properties of these languages alive, and to teach it to others.


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Emily Elfner. "Recursion in prosodic phrasing: Evidence from Connemara Irish," Natural Language and Linguistic Theory,, 2015.

Seunghun Lee. "Domains of High Tone Spreading and the noun class prefix in Xitsonga," Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, v.32, 2014, p. In press.

Selkirk, Elisabeth and Seunghun Lee. "Constituency in sentence phonology: An introduction," Phonology, v.32, 2015, p. 1. 

Gorka Elordieta. "Recursive phonological phrasing in Basque," Special thematic issue of Phonology, "Constituent Structure in Sentence Phonology", Seunghun Lee & Elisabeth Selkirk (eds.), v.32, 2015, p. 49. 


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