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Bidirectional Phonology and Phonetics

Group Coordinator

  • Silke Hamann


  • Paul Boersma (ACLC), senior researcher, coordinator
  • Silke Hamann (ACLC), senior researcher
  • David Weenink (ACLC), senior researcher
  • Camilla Horslund (ACLC), external post-doctoral researcher (Danish Research Council DFF)
    project: “Does the Dutch contrast between reten and reden prepare native Dutch speakers for learning the English contrast between bat and bad?”, February 2018 – February 2020
  • Jan-Willem van Leussen (ACLC), PhD candidate in Boersma’s Vici-project
    subproject: “The emergence of French phonology”, October 2009 – March 2014
  • Mirjam de Jonge (ACLC), PhD candidate (0.8 fte)
    project: NWO Promoties in de Geesteswetenschappen “Primitives of phonological representations”, September 2012 – September 2018
  • Klaas Seinhorst (ACLC), PhD candidate (0.35 fte)
    project: “The learnability of phoneme inventories”, September 2012 – February 2020
  • Jeroen Breteler (ACLC), PhD candidate (1.0 fte)
    project: “A foot-based typology of tonal reassociation: perspectives from synchrony and learnability”, November 2013 – November 2017; defended his thesis on 30 May 2018
  • Dirk-Jan Vet, electronic engineer
  • Mayuki Matsui (National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics), visiting post-doctoral researcher, September 2018 – August 2019
  • Chao Zhou (University of Lisbon), visiting PhD candidate, September – October 2018


We explain the typology of sound systems by modelling phonology as well as phonetics bidirectionally (i.e. we model the speaker as well as the listener), and by modelling the acquisition and cross-generational evolution of all this. We either model this in a symbolic framework based on strict constraint ranking (Optimality Theory), or in a distributed framework based on artificial neural networks. If we employ a symbolic framework, we employ at least five representations (one ‘semantic’, two phonological, two phonetic) and four constraint families that connect these representations to each other. We model the processes of comprehension and production and their acquisition and evolution explicitly with computer simulations, and we test aspects of this model by performing laboratory experiments with adults and infants.

Research highlights in 2018

The group was joined in March by Camilla Horslund and in September by Mayuki Matsui.

Jeroen Breteler defended his PhD thesis on 30 May 2018. He gives Optimality-Theoretic accounts of the typology of tone spread and tone shift in terms of ternary feet, including computer simulations of its learnability. A major result is that although many unattested patterns are representable in the typology generated from free reranking of constraints, these patterns tend to be less learnable than the patterns actually attested in tone languages.