The next seminar in the series Linguistics Circle Seminar Series will be held on Friday 10 March at 13:00 in Room 214, M.A. Vassalli Conference Centre – Gateway Building (GW214). During the seminar Andy Wedel, from the University of Arizona, will talk about 'Signal evolution within the word'. Abstract
Languages appear to optimize the amount of segmental information allocated to words: words that are are less contextually predictable tend to be longer, while words that are more predictable tend to be shorter (Zipf 1935, Piantadosi et al 2011). Wedel will show evidence from English that the average informativity of segments inside of words is also optimized.
Listeners incrementally process words as they are heard, progressively updating inferences about what word is intended as the phonetic signal unfolds in time. As a consequence, phonetic cues at the beginning of a word are more informative about word-identity, because they are less predicted by previous segmental context. This suggests that languages should not only optimize the amount of segmental information in words, but also optimize the distribution of that information across the word. Specifically, words that are on average less predictable in context should contain more highly-informative segments overall, and also position more informative segments earlier in the word.
More generally, we know that languages show a strong tendency to develop phonological patterns which enhance phonetic cues at word beginnings, while reducing cues later in words. He will argue that this typological tendency plausibly arises from the word-level phenomena described here.