USC colloquium talk: Sept 23

Title and abstract from colloquium talk at USC, Sept 23, 2019:

The temporal geometry of phonology

 Abstract: Languages differ in how the spatial dimensions of the vocal tract, i.e., constriction location/degree, are organized to express phonological form. Languages also differ in temporal geometry, i.e., how sequences of vocal tract constrictions are organized in time. The most comprehensive accounts of temporal organization to date have been developed within the Articulatory Phonology framework, where phonological representations take the form of temporally coordinated action units, known as gestures (Browman & Goldstein, 1986; Gafos & Goldstein, 2012; Goldstein & Pouplier, 2014). A key property of Articulatory Phonology is the feed-forward control of articulation by ensembles of temporally organized gestures.

In this talk, I first make explicit how the temporal geometry of phonology conditions language-specific patterns of phonetic variation. Through computational simulation, I illustrate how distinct temporal geometries for syllable types and segment types (complex segments vs. segment sequences) structure phonetic variation. Model predictions are tested on experimental phonetic data from English (Shaw, Durvasula, & Kochetov, 2019; Shaw & Gafos, 2015), Arabic (Shaw, Gafos, Hoole, & Zeroual, 2011), Japanese (Shaw & Kawahara, 2018) and Russian (Kochetov, 2006; Shaw et al., 2019). Phonological structure formalized as ensembles of local coordination relations between articulatory gestures (Gafos, 2002) and implemented in stochastic models (Gafos, Charlow, Shaw, & Hoole, 2014; Shaw & Gafos, 2015) reliably describes patterns of temporal variation in these languages. These results crucially rely on feed-forward control of gestures. I close with data from Mandarin Chinese which presents a potential challenge to strict feed-forward control. Unexpectedly, inter-gestural coordination in Mandarin appears to be sensitive to the spatial position of articulators—gestures begin earlier in time just when they are farther in space from their target. To account for the Mandarin data, I explore the possibility that gestures are temporal organized according to spatial targets, which requires a combination of feedback and feedforward control, and discuss some implications of the proposal for speech perception and sound change.


Browman, C., & Goldstein, L. (1986). Towards an Articulatory Phonology. Phonology Yearbook, 3, 219-252.

Gafos, Charlow, S., Shaw, J. A., & Hoole, P. (2014). Stochastic time analysis of syllable-referential intervals and simplex onsets. Journal of Phonetics, 44, 152-166.

Gafos, A. (2002). A grammar of gestural coordination. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 20, 269-337.

Gafos, A., & Goldstein, L. (2012). Articulatory representation and organization. In A. C. Cohn, C. Fougeron, & M. K. Huffman (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Laboratory Phonology (pp. 220-231).

Goldstein, L., & Pouplier, M. (2014). The Temporal Organization of Speech. The Oxford handbook of language production, 210-240.

Kochetov, A. (2006). Syllable position effects and gestural organization: Articulatory evidence from Russian. In L. G. Goldstein, D. H. Whalen, & C. Best (Eds.), Laboratory Phonology 8 (pp. 565-588). Berlin: de Gruyter.

Shaw, J. A., Durvasula, K., & Kochetov, A. 2019. The temporal basis of complex segments. In Sasha Calhoun, Paola Escudero, Marija Tabain & Paul Warren (eds.) Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Melbourne, Australia 2019 (pp. 676-680). Canberra, Australia: Australasian Speech Science and Technology Association Inc.

Shaw, J. A., & Gafos, A. I. (2015). Stochastic Time Models of Syllable Structure. PLoS One, 10(5), e0124714 0124711-0124736.

Shaw, J. A., Gafos, A. I., Hoole, P., & Zeroual, C. (2011). Dynamic invariance in the phonetic expression of syllable structure: a case study of Moroccan Arabic consonant clusters. Phonology, 28(3), 455-490.

Shaw, J. A., & Kawahara, S. (2018). The lingual articulation of devoiced /u/ in Tokyo Japanese. Journal of Phonetics, 66, 100-119. doi: