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Francis Jeffry Pelletier
Most linguists have heard of semantic compositionality. Some will have heard that it is the fundamental truth of semantics. Others will have been told that it is so thoroughly and completely wrong that it is astonishing that it is still being taught. The present article attempts to explain all this. Much of the discussion of semantic compositionality takes place in three arenas that are rather insulated from one another: (a) philosophy of mind and language, (b) formal semantics, and (c) cognitive linguistics and cognitive psychology. A truly comprehensive overview of the writings in all these areas is not possible here. However, this article does discuss some of the work that occurs in each of these areas. A bibliography of general works, and some Internet resources, will help guide the reader to some further, undiscussed works (including further material in all three categories).
The study of sociolinguistics constitutes a vast and complex topic that has yielded an extensive and multifaceted body of scholarship. Language is fundamentally at work in how we operate as individuals, as members of various communities, and within cultures and societies. As speakers, we learn not only the structure of a given language; we also learn cultural and social norms about how to use language and what content to communicate. We use language to navigate expectations, to engage in interpersonal interaction, and to go along with or to speak out against social structures and systems.
Sociolinguistics aims to study the effects of language use within and upon societies and the reciprocal effects of social organization and social contexts on language use. In contemporary theoretical perspectives, sociolinguists view language and society as being mutually constitutive: each influences the other in ways that are inseparable and complex. Language is imbued with and carries social, cultural, and personal meaning. Through the use of linguistic markers, speakers symbolically define self and society. Simply put, language is not merely content; rather, it is something that we do, and it affects how we act and interact as social beings in the world.
Language is a social product with rich variation along individual, community, cultural, and societal lines. For this reason, context matters in sociolinguistic research. Social categories such as gender, race/ethnicity, social class, nationality, etc., are socially constructed, with considerable variation within and among categories. Attributes such as “female” or “upper class” do not have universal effects on linguistic behavior, and sociolinguists cannot assume that the most interesting linguistic differences will be between groups of speakers in any simple, binary fashion. Sociolinguistic research thus aims to explore social and linguistic diversity in order to better understand how we, as speakers, use language to inhabit and negotiate our many personal, cultural, and social identities and roles.
Kodi Weatherholtz and T. Florian Jaeger
The seeming ease with which we usually understand each other belies the complexity of the processes that underlie speech perception. One of the biggest computational challenges is that different talkers realize the same speech categories (e.g., /p/) in physically different ways. We review the mixture of processes that enable robust speech understanding across talkers despite this lack of invariance. These processes range from automatic pre-speech adjustments of the distribution of energy over acoustic frequencies (normalization) to implicit statistical learning of talker-specific properties (adaptation, perceptual recalibration) to the generalization of these patterns across groups of talkers (e.g., gender differences).
Patrice Speeter Beddor
In their conversational interactions with speakers, listeners aim to understand what a speaker is saying, that is, they aim to arrive at the linguistic message, which is interwoven with social and other information, being conveyed by the input speech signal. Across the more than 60 years of speech perception research, a foundational issue has been to account for listeners’ ability to achieve stable linguistic percepts corresponding to the speaker’s intended message despite highly variable acoustic signals. Research has especially focused on acoustic variants attributable to the phonetic context in which a given phonological form occurs and on variants attributable to the particular speaker who produced the signal. These context- and speaker-dependent variants reveal the complex—albeit informationally rich—patterns that bombard listeners in their everyday interactions.
How do listeners deal with these variable acoustic patterns? Empirical studies that address this question provide clear evidence that perception is a malleable, dynamic, and active process. Findings show that listeners perceptually factor out, or compensate for, the variation due to context yet also use that same variation in deciding what a speaker has said. Similarly, listeners adjust, or normalize, for the variation introduced by speakers who differ in their anatomical and socio-indexical characteristics, yet listeners also use that socially structured variation to facilitate their linguistic judgments. Investigations of the time course of perception show that these perceptual accommodations occur rapidly, as the acoustic signal unfolds in real time. Thus, listeners closely attend to the phonetic details made available by different contexts and different speakers. The structured, lawful nature of this variation informs perception.
Speech perception changes over time not only in listeners’ moment-by-moment processing, but also across the life span of individuals as they acquire their native language(s), non-native languages, and new dialects and as they encounter other novel speech experiences. These listener-specific experiences contribute to individual differences in perceptual processing. However, even listeners from linguistically homogenous backgrounds differ in their attention to the various acoustic properties that simultaneously convey linguistically and socially meaningful information. The nature and source of listener-specific perceptual strategies serve as an important window on perceptual processing and on how that processing might contribute to sound change.
Theories of speech perception aim to explain how listeners interpret the input acoustic signal as linguistic forms. A theoretical account should specify the principles that underlie accurate, stable, flexible, and dynamic perception as achieved by different listeners in different contexts. Current theories differ in their conception of the nature of the information that listeners recover from the acoustic signal, with one fundamental distinction being whether the recovered information is gestural or auditory. Current approaches also differ in their conception of the nature of phonological representations in relation to speech perception, although there is increasing consensus that these representations are more detailed than the abstract, invariant representations of traditional formal phonology. Ongoing work in this area investigates how both abstract information and detailed acoustic information are stored and retrieved, and how best to integrate these types of information in a single theoretical model.
Paul de Lacy
Phonology has both a taxonomic/descriptive and cognitive meaning. In the taxonomic/descriptive context, it refers to speech sound systems. As a cognitive term, it refers to a part of the brain’s ability to produce and perceive speech sounds. This article focuses on research in the cognitive domain.
The brain does not simply record speech sounds and “play them back.” It abstracts over speech sounds, and transforms the abstractions in nontrivial ways. Phonological cognition is about what those abstractions are, and how they are transformed in perception and production.
There are many theories about phonological cognition. Some theories see it as the result of domain-general mechanisms, such as analogy over a Lexicon. Other theories locate it in an encapsulated module that is genetically specified, and has innate propositional content. In production, this module takes as its input phonological material from a Lexicon, and refers to syntactic and morphological structure in producing an output, which involves nontrivial transformation. In some theories, the output is instructions for articulator movement, which result in speech sounds; in other theories, the output goes to the Phonetic module. In perception, a continuous acoustic signal is mapped onto a phonetic representation, which is then mapped onto underlying forms via the Phonological module, which are then matched to lexical entries.
Exactly which empirical phenomena phonological cognition is responsible for depends on the theory. At one extreme, it accounts for all human speech sound patterns and realization. At the other extreme, it is little more than a way of abstracting over speech sounds. In the most popular Generative conception, it explains some sound patterns, with other modules (e.g., the Lexicon and Phonetic module) accounting for others. There are many types of patterns, with names such as “assimilation,” “deletion,” and “neutralization”—a great deal of phonological research focuses on determining which patterns there are, which aspects are universal and which are language-particular, and whether/how phonological cognition is responsible for them.
Phonological computation connects with other cognitive structures. In the Generative T-model, the phonological module’s input includes morphs of Lexical items along with at least some morphological and syntactic structure; the output is sent to either a Phonetic module, or directly to the neuro-motor interface, resulting in articulator movement. However, other theories propose that these modules’ computation proceeds in parallel, and that there is bidirectional communication between them.
The study of phonological cognition is a young science, so many fundamental questions remain to be answered. There are currently many different theories, and theoretical diversity over the past few decades has increased rather than consolidated. In addition, new research methods have been developed and older ones have been refined, providing novel sources of evidence. Consequently, phonological research is both lively and challenging, and is likely to remain that way for some time to come.
When the phonological form of a morpheme—a unit of meaning that cannot be decomposed further into smaller units of meaning—involves a particular melodic pattern as part of its sound shape, this morpheme is specified for tone. In view of this definition, phrase- and utterance-level melodies—also known as intonation—are not to be interpreted as instances of tone. That is, whereas the question “Tomorrow?” may be uttered with a rising melody, this melody is not tone, because it is not a part of the lexical specification of the morpheme tomorrow. A language that presents morphemes that are specified with specific melodies is called a tone language. It is not the case that in a tone language every morpheme, content word, or syllable would be specified for tone. Tonal specification can be highly restricted within the lexicon. Examples of such sparsely specified tone languages include Swedish, Japanese, and Ekagi (a language spoken in the Indonesian part of New Guinea); in these languages, only some syllables in some words are specified for tone. There are also tone languages where each and every syllable of each and every word has a specification. Vietnamese and Shilluk (a language spoken in South Sudan) illustrate this configuration. Tone languages also vary greatly in terms of the inventory of phonological tone forms. The smallest possible inventory contrasts one specification with the absence of specification. But there are also tone languages with eight or more distinctive tone categories. The physical (acoustic) realization of the tone categories is primarily fundamental frequency (F0), which is perceived as pitch. However, often other phonetic correlates are also involved, in particular voice quality. Tone plays a prominent role in the study of phonology because of its structural complexity. That is, in many languages, the way a tone surfaces is conditioned by factors such as the segmental composition of the morpheme, the tonal specifications of surrounding constituents, morphosyntax, and intonation. On top of this, tone is diachronically unstable. This means that, when a language has tone, we can expect to find considerable variation between dialects, and more of it than in relation to other parts of the sound system.
Harry van der Hulst
The subject of this article is vowel harmony. In its prototypical form, this phenomenon involves agreement between all vowels in a word for some phonological property (such as palatality, labiality, height or tongue root position). This agreement is then evidenced by agreement patterns within morphemes and by alternations in vowels when morphemes are combined into complex words, thus creating allomorphic alternations. Agreement involves one or more harmonic features for which vowels form harmonic pairs, such that each vowel has a harmonic counterpart in the other set. I will focus on vowels that fail to alternate, that are thus neutral (either inherently or in a specific context), and that will be either opaque or transparent to the process. We will compare approaches that use underspecification of binary features and approaches that use unary features. For vowel harmony, vowels are either triggers or targets, and for each, specific conditions may apply. Vowel harmony can be bidirectional or unidirectional and can display either a root control pattern or a dominant/recessive pattern.
Matthew J. Gordon
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
William Labov (b. 1927) is an American linguist who pioneered the study of variationist sociolinguistics. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Labov studied English and philosophy at Harvard University (BA, 1948) and worked as an industrial chemist for several years before entering graduate school in linguistics at Columbia University in 1961. He completed his PhD in 1964, under the direction of Uriel Weinreich. He worked at Columbia until 1971, when he joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught until his retirement in 2014.
Labov’s influence on the field of linguistics began with research he conducted in graduate school. His study of changing pronunciations on Martha’s Vineyard, the subject of his Masters thesis, introduced a method for observing sound change while in progress and broke with tradition by exploring social motivations for linguistic innovations. For his PhD dissertation, Labov carried out a study of dialect patterns on the Lower East Side of New York City. Using a systematic, quantitative methodology, he demonstrated that linguistic variation is socially stratified, such that the use of pronunciation features (e.g., dropping of post-vocalic /r/) correlates with social class, ethnicity, etc., in regular patterns. Labov’s early research was greatly influential, and it inspired many scholars to carry out similar projects in other communities. The paradigm came to be known as variationist sociolinguistics.
Much of Labov’s scholarship seeks to advance our understanding of language change. Historical linguists traditionally study completed linguistic changes, often long after they had occurred, but Labov developed a method for examining active changes through a quantitative comparison of speakers representing several generations. This approach produces a new perspective on the change process by revealing intermediate stages. Labov has brought insights from this research to bear on theoretical debates within historical linguistics and the field more broadly. His work in this area has also documented many active sound changes in American English. Among these changes are innovations underway in particular dialects such as the vowel changes in Philadelphia, as well as broader regional patterns such as the Northern Cities Shift heard in the Great Lakes states.
Throughout his career, social justice concerns have fueled Labov’s research. He has sought to demonstrate that the speech of stigmatized groups is as systematic and rule-governed as any other. He led a pioneering study in Harlem in the late 1960s that shone new light on African American English, demonstrating, for example, that grammatical usages like the deletion of the copula (e.g. He fast) are subject to regular constraints. Labov has served as an expert witness in court and before the U.S. Congress to share insights from his study of African American English. He has also worked to promote literacy for speakers of non-standard dialects, carrying out research on reading and developing material for the teaching of reading to these populations.
Edgar W. Schneider
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
English clearly is the world’s leading language today: the language of formal and other interactions in many countries, the main tool of globalization, and the default choice for transnational communication. Initially, the expansion of the British Empire, beginning in the 17th century and driven by various motives for colonization, brought it to all continents: North America and the Caribbean, the southern hemisphere (including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other territories), and also Asia, Africa, and the Pacific region. In contact with indigenous languages new, increasingly stable and localized varieties of English with properties and functions of their own have grown in many countries. These varieties have come to be summarily labeled as “World Englishes,” and a new sub-discipline in linguistics has emerged since the 1980s, investigating their features and conditions of use. They have conventionally been classified according to their status in specific countries and territories, as native, second, or foreign languages, respectively, and several theoretical models have been proposed to account for their status, developments, and mutual relationships. Vibrant changes of the recent past, broadly associated with a sociolinguistics of globalization and increasing super-diversity, have continued to push the dissemination of English to new contexts, both socially and individually, and a “post-varieties approach” is now being envisaged.
A wide range of facts and issues can be discussed and investigated when addressing World Englishes. The basic perspective, obviously, concerns the sociohistorical diffusion of the language: who brought English to which territories, when and why? And how has the language been transformed in different places? It has been argued convincingly (in the “Dynamic Model” of the evolution of Postcolonial Englishes) that, despite all geographical, historical, and social differences amazing similarities in the emergence of these new varieties, grounded in principles of sociolinguistic accommodation and identity transformations, can be identified. In all contexts and territories, contact with local and other languages has been determinative, usually via the process of second-language acquisition of English by indigenous people. Language policies and their implementation by means of strategies of language pedagogy have played a major role, and all of this is shaped decisively by linguistic attitudes—the question of what speakers and authorities believe about such emerging varieties and their relationship to norms of correctness. Also, specific structural patterns and types of linguistic phenomena can be observed in all these varieties on all levels of language organization.
Consequently, the notion of “English” today needs to be retuned from thinking of it as a single, monolithic entity, a linguistic “standard,” and a reference system, to understanding it as a set of related, structurally overlapping, but also distinct varieties, the products of a fundamental “glocalization” process with variable, context-dependent outcomes.
Rosemary G. Beam de Azcona
Zapotecan languages belong to the Otomanguean stock and consist of two major subgroups: Zapotec and Chatino. They are primarily spoken in Oaxaca, Mexico, and elsewhere in diaspora, particularly in California but also in other parts of the United States and Mexico. Zapotecan languages are spoken in a contiguous area and although all are related genetically, many languages exist in regional diffusion zones such that new changes spread areally. Similarly, individual Zapotecan “languages” often consist of dialect continua.
Zapotecan languages are tonal and also have contrastive phonation types, such as a contrast between modal (V), checked (VɁ), and rearticulated (VɁV) vowels. Some Valley Zapotec languages also have breathy voice, partially due to contact with Mixe. Vowel nasalization is a prominent feature of Chatino and a marginal feature of some Zapotec languages. Consonants usually fall into two contrastive series in Zapotec, commonly termed “fortis” and “lenis,” though the phonetic realizations of these vary from language to language. The historical loss of unstressed vowels is common in many Zapotecan languages, though there are individual Zapotec and Chatino languages that retain them. A stress shift from the final syllable (retained in Chatino) to the first (usually penultimate) syllable of the root (in Zapotec) makes the languages with vowel loss more dissimilar from each other, since a different syllable survives in Chatino versus Zapotec.
Zapotecan languages are head-initial languages with VSO order and are typically head-marking. Common morphology includes pre-posed TAM markers and post-posed person markers on the verb, and derivational prefixes on nouns. An emergent class of prepositions is developing out of what were historically relational nouns. Stative forms of verbs are more common than true adjectives, while numerals have many verbal properties.
Like other Meso-American languages, Zapotecan languages are currently experiencing both a golden age and a moment of unprecedented peril. There is an ever-increasing number of linguists who are native speakers of these languages, and the community of language activists, including students and educators, is growing stronger in Oaxaca and Mexico at large, and indeed worldwide, including where Zapotecan languages are spoken by immigrants. At the same time, the intense political and socioeconomic pressure on communities to shift to Spanish is greater than ever before, and the number of communities where children speak Zapotecan languages is ever shrinking. Children in communities where children speak Zapotecan languages at home are often chastised for doing so in school, which poses a continual threat. Zapotecan languages historically have been in contact with other Meso-American languages such as Nahuatl, Mixtec, Chontal, Mixe, Huave and Chinantec, among others. Today the vast majority of speakers of Zapotecan languages are at least bilingual in their language and Spanish, and many also speak English and/or other Meso-American languages. Zapotecan languages mostly show lexical borrowings from these other languages, and occasional grammatical borrowings. Regional varieties of Spanish show a Zapotecan substrate with numerous calques and interference on every level of the language from phonetics to pragmatics.