Sep 26, 2011
Andries Coetzee reports a busy summer (lightly edited for this news item):
(1) Research trip in South Africa
I spent three weeks at my alma mater, the North-West University, in South Africa during May and June. The main purpose of the trip was to collect data on the realization of obstruent voicing in Afrikaans. This is for a new collaborative project of myself, Pam Beddor, Cameron Rule and Bertus van Rooy (a colleague from the North-West University). It is our ultimate goal to compare the realization of obstruent voicing in Afrikaans and English, and to explain some interesting differences in the patterning between the two languages. But this project is still in its early stages, and it will be several more year before any results materialize.
I also presented two talks at the North-West University.
"Research trends in phonology". There has not been much theoretical phonology research over the past decade or so in South Africa. This talk was really an informal seminar-like event where I talked with faculty and graduate students in the language sciences at the North-West University. The goal was to introduce them to some of the themes that are currently being pursued in theoretical phonology and to motivate them to explore the connections between their research and these themes.
"Graduate study in the United States". I also had an informal discussion with a group of undergraduate and junior graduate students from the North-West University about graduate study in the US. Few of them have ever left South Africa and none of them had any idea about that they could apply to graduate programs in the US, what the application entails, or what graduate study in the US is like. I still remember my confusion and fears when I applied from South Africa! I was pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm, and I think several of them will apply to US programs, and I don't doubt that some may even get in!
(2) Talks in the Netherlands
On my way back from South Africa in mid June, I stopped over in the Netherlands where I gave two talks.
"The distribution of obstruent voicing in Afrikaans". This talk was presented at the 32nd TABU Dag in Groningen, a beautiful medieval university city in the north of the Netherlands.
"A Morpheme Structure Constraint on Obstruent Voicing in Afrikaans". This is a longer, more technical version of the talk mentioned above, given at the Meertens Instituut in Amsterdam. The Meertems is a wonderful research institute that is part of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. The research at the institute focuses on the study and documentation of the Dutch culture and language. Some of the foremost Dutch linguist are affiliated with the Meertens Instituut.
The new Handbook of Phonological Theory, published by Blackwell, has just appeared in print. It contains a chapter that I co-wrote with Joe Pater (UMass). The title of our chapter is "The Place of Variation in Phonological Theory". In this chapter, we review the prospects of variation as a research topic in phonology over the past 50 years. We cover both Labovian variationist approaches and newer approaches in constraint-based models of grammar (such as Optimality Theory and Harmonic Grammar).
(4) Hong Kong
And then there was also a talk later in the summer at the 17th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences in Hong Kong together with Pam and Susan Lin:
"Gestural Reduction and Sound Change: an Ultrasound Study"
Abstract: The magnitude of the tongue tip gesture in laterals in /VlC/ sequences produced by 8 American English speakers was measured with ultrasound imaging. Gestural reduction was found for pre- labial (e.g., help) and pre-velar (milk) contexts relative to alveolar (pelt, built) contexts. Also, for some speakers, reduction was greater for high-frequency words (help, milk) than for
low- frequency words (whelp, ilk). These patterns of place- and frequency-conditioned reductions are tentatively interpreted as contributing to the initiation and lexical diffusion (respectively) of sound changes involving /l/ vocalization.