Andries Coetzee participated in a special organized session at the recent Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America in Minneapolis. The session was titled "The locus of linguistic variation", and featured a number of presentations that probed into the place of variation in human linguistic competence. The presentations came from a range of different formal and theoretical approaches to variation, covering both generatively oriented approaches, exemplar based approaches, and hybrid approaches. Andries presented on his research about the integration of grammatical and non-grammatical factors into a single generative model of phonological variation.
A grammar-delimited variable space
Existing approaches to phonological variation differ in the role that they ascribe to grammar. Some assume no role for grammar,considering variation as the result of non-grammatical factors impacting the categorical output of phonological grammar. Others assume that grammar and non-grammatical factors contribute equally to variation. Yet others attempt to account for all aspects of variation with grammar alone, allowing no room for non-grammatical factors. In this talk, I will develop a fourth possible model with the following features: (i) Grammar itself is variable and hence contributes to variation. (ii) Non-grammatical factors also
contribute. (iii) But the model is grammar dominant–grammar defines the space of possible variation and non-grammatical factors
can only influence how variation is realized within this grammar-delimited variable space. The model will be implemented in
Harmonic Grammar, and will be applied to variable t/d-deletion and variable cross-word nasal place assimilation in English.