Phonology investigates the organization of sounds in the world's languages and the principles that give rise to those patterns: why are certain sound patterns common and others rare or nonexistent? Which combinations of sounds can languages exhibit, in terms of both inventories and phonotactics? How do these segmental considerations interact with other structures like prosody and morphology? What is the possible range of variation across languages and dialects? And most fundamentally, what are the principles that are responsible for these things?
At the University of Utah, Aaron Kaplan (the department's tenure-line phonologist) and his collaborators--both students and other
faculty--pursue these questions from the perspective of generative, constraint-based phonology. Working in Optimality Theory and related frameworks like Harmonic Grammar, we probe phonological phenomena that help us answer these questions and reveal the basic building blocks of phonological grammars. Those phenomena also reveal important differences between closely related theories, and pursuing those differences helps us determine which theoretical constructs best reflect the empirical landscape.
Our recent research has focused on two kinds of phenomena: licensing-based systems wherein certain kinds of sounds appear only in particular positions (for example, in English full vowels largely appear only in stressed syllables, and in many Romance metaphony systems, height features on final high vowels must spread to the stressed syllable) and optional processes like schwa deletion/epenthesis in French and flapping in English. Using these as our empirical base, we have produced--and continue to pursue--a body of research that clarifies the nature of these phenomena, evaluates the merits of competing strategies for modeling the phenomena, proposes new theoretical constructs where necessary, and identifies fundamental architectural differences between larger theoretical frameworks. This research program has fostered journal articles, conference presentations, MA and PhD theses, and undergraduate research projects.
Study Phonology at the University of Utah