Jan Willem van Leussen MA, Amsterdam Centre for Language and Communication, Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam
Learning French liaison in multilevel constraint grammars
Jan Willem van Leussen is the guest speaker at this ACLC seminar, the title and abstract of this lecture are now available.
Liaison in Modern French concerns the pronunciation of normally latent, orthographically word-final consonants. An example is the final [z] in the definite plural article les, which appears in les enfants [lezɑ̃fɑ̃] but not in les parents [lepaʁɑ̃]. While ostensibly a process of hiatus avoidance, liaison is in fact a notoriously complex and variable phenomenon. It has long been a "test case" for models of phonology and various analyses have been proposed in the literature.
This work presents a learning model of liaison in the multi-level, OT-based BiPhon framework (Boersma 2011). We construct a model that is largely agnostic to the locus of liaison in the grammar, and as such is compatible with various earlier analyses. Next, we train the model on a large number of liaising and non-liaising phrases culled from a large corpus of modern spoken French. In this way, we test which analyses of liaison are acquired on the basis of overt input data.
Two main results emerge. First, grammars in which different levels of representation are organized serially cannot reproduce the liaison patterns in the data, where as interactive grammars can. Second, those interactive grammars that learn the patterns overwhelmingly prefer a lexical rather than a phonological analysis, where liaising phrases are analysed as using a plural allomorph of the right word, e.g. |le+zɑ̃fɑ̃| for les enfants.
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