Representation and the logical power of constraints

Much of my research focuses on the exact formal definitions of constraints, both markedness and faithfulness, and how this affects assumptions about representation. My dissertation proposes a unified structure for identity constraints: those that mediate input/output & surface correspondence as well as local agreement. Additionally, work with Adam Jardine, Jeff Heinz, and colleagues studies  the computational & logical complexity of markedness constraints and their formal definition in model theory. 

Behavior of complex place

Phonological processes involving place of articulation are well-studied. However, the set of processes that place participates in is expanded when focusing on the behavior of complex place. Long-distance place agreement is attested in Ngbaka between semihomorganic pairs (e.g. k/kp, p/kp), and cross-category consonant-to-vowel agreement is found in Vietnamese, where a back, round vowel causes a simple dorsal to become a multiply-articulated labial-dorsal segment in coda position (e.g. /ok/ -> [okp]). 

Formal properties of linguistic typologies

Linguistic theories, properly defined, predict typologies. In Optimality Theory, this typological structure forms well-defined objects (graphs) whose properties can be studied. Investigation of the typological space of OT typologies forms the basis of Property Theory, which reduces typologies to minimal ranking conditions between discrete languages. My work under this rubric involves investigating onset/coda disparities of place of articulation as well as implicational universals of place with respect to a universal markedness scale. 


My dissertation proposes a unified theory of place identity, which is those constraints that mediate featural similarity between two segments (Ident and Agree). For place, identity constraints must control for both the featural similarity as well as the positions of those features within the geometry (C-place vs. V-place). Primary evidence comes from processes involving labial-velars: long-distance major place harmony in Ngbaka, cross-category consonant-to-vowel assimilation in Vietnamese, and partial reduction (place shedding) processes in Amele and a number of other languages. The multiple place features on a single, complex segment allow for a wider range of possible place disparities than simply simple-to-simple mappings.


     From Thomas (1963)  Le parler Ngbaka de bokanga.

    From Thomas (1963) Le parler Ngbaka de bokanga.