October 14, 2016

Awesomeness | Newly published | Travels | Enterprising linguists | Talks and events

Please send information and news of departmental interest to Andrew Garrett.


Our very own Terry Regier has been chosen as Chair-Elect of the Cognitive Science Society; that means he'll be Chair (equivalent to President in other scholarly and scientific organizations) in the 2017-18 academic year. Congratulations, Terry!

Newly published

Matt Faytak, "Sonority in some languages of the Cameroon Grassfields", in Challenging sonority: Cross-linguistic evidence, ed. by Martin J. Ball and Nicole Müller (Equinox, published on Monday), pp. 76-96.

  • Abstract: Syllabification and sequencing phonotactics are thought to reference the sonority of the segments in an input string. The Sonority Sequencing Principle (SSP) holds such that a syllable nucleus will exceed its margins in sonority (Clements 1990, Zec 1995). Additionally, it has been observed that syllabification of a given segment class implies syllabification of all more sonorous classes (Blevins 1995). Both generalizations, first formulated in abstract phonological terms, are easily adapted to a model of sonority grounded in acoustic characteristics of segment classes (Parker 2008, Clements 2009). I suggest that the above two generalizations do not extend to two languages of the Cameroon Grassfields, Kom and Limbum. Two fricative vowels present in each of these languages are produced (respectively) with labiodental and strident coronal frication—that is, they are produced as obstruents (cf. also Connell 2007). As such, syllabification in these languages is problematic: the obstruent fricative vowels are syllabified where several types of non-obstruents are not, counter to previous predictions. Furthermore, several permitted onset-nucleus sequences violate the SSH, as a fall in sonority may be observed between the onset and the nucleus. Virtually identical phonotactics can be found in numerous unrelated languages outside the Grassfields (Faytak, in press), suggesting that the fricative vowel problem is not confined to one linguistic area. The SSH and implicational statements on syllabification can both be salvaged if the sonority hierarchy is removed from a substantive basis in acoustics. In the case of Kom and Limbum, the fricative vowels derive historically from more typical high vowels *i and *u, such that they could be counted as non-obstruents in some abstract sense. However, if sonority is removed from phonetic substance to broaden empirical coverage, the concept becomes circular. I consider modifications or alternatives to the typical substantively grounded account of sonority and find that segment modulation in a number of acoustic dimensions (Ohala and Kawasaki-Fukumori 1997), rather than segment sonority, provides the greatest explanatory power for Kom's phonotactics.


This week, Berkeley linguists traveling to conferences and whatnot include the following:

Travel safely, everybody, and stay dry!

Enterprising linguists: Careers outside the classroom

Soon you will have that degree in linguistics, but what next? Learn about the possibilities from our panel of linguists as they discuss how they turned their degrees into careers outside the classroom. From influential start-ups to some of the most well-known companies in the world, our speakers are using linguistics in unique and interesting ways. After the panel presentation, we will have a Q-and-A session and plenty of time for informal socializing:

  • Saturday, October 22, from 10 am to 2 pm, in 2040 VLSB

This event is free and open to the public and is sponsored by the Linguistic Society of America, the UC Berkeley Department of Linguistics, and Linguistics Beyond Academia, an LSA Special Interest Group. If you cannot come to the event, a recording of the panel presentation will be available at the LSA's YouTube channelafter the event.

Talks and events

  • Monday, October 17
  • Tuesday, October 18
  • Wednesday, October 19
    • 5–6: SLUgS (Society of Linguistics Undergraduate Students, 1229 Dwinelle)
  • Thursday, October 20
    • 12:30–2: GoOD InTEnSIOnS (Semantics reading group, 1303 Dwinelle)
    • 12:30–2: Discussion of Hay et al. 2015, "Tracking word frequency effects through 130 years of sound change" (*dhworom, 1229 Dwinelle)
  • Friday, October 21
    • 3-5: Stephen Krashen (USC), "Compelling reading and problem-Solving: The easy way (and the only way) to high levels of language, literacy and life competence" (Berkeley Language Center, B-4 Dwinelle)