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Interface between syntax and phonology

Much of my research deals with the interface between syntax and phonology. In particular, I am interested in how syntactic constituents and prosodic constituents correspond and whether there is a universal mapping algorithm between syntax and phonology.

I argue that current theories of syntax-phonology correspondence at the word level must be modified to account for polysynthetic languages like Blackfoot. One problem is that Blackfoot words contain phrasal syntax. A second problem is that no current theory of the Prosodic Word (Alignment Theory, Wrap Theory, Match Theory) can derive the highly recursive prosodic structure within Blackfoot words. My proposal is to modify MatchWord (Selkirk 2011) to refer to phrases. As a result MatchPhrase and MatchWord have largely parallel definitions, suggesting that there is a single underlying correspondence algorithm at the phrase and word level.

  • Weber, Natalie. 2022. Prosodic word recursion in a polysynthetic language (Blackfoot; Algonquian). Languages. Phonology-syntax interface and recursivity 7(3). DOI 10. 3390/languages7030159.
  • Weber, Natalie. 2021. Phase-based constraints within Match Theory. In Supplemental Proceedings of the 2020 Annual Meeting on Phonology, Ryan Bennett et al. (eds.). Washington, D.C.: Linguistic Society of America. [proceedings] [poster] [captioned video]

Prosodic structure

A current project investigates the typology of prosodic structure within the Algonquian family. The current focus compares phonological generalizations at morpheme edges in order to determine the prosodic structure of each language. By considering related languages with similar morphosyntax, the eventual aim is to determine how the grammar of prosodic structure may vary and how it is constrained. We presented this work at the 54th Algonquian Conference (2022) and at a Special Organized Session at the 2023 LSA.

Our preliminary results show that each of the five languages exhibits different phonological generalizations at the preverb-stem versus initial-final boundaries, even though the specific phonological processes vary across the languages. For languages where phonological descriptions exist, our findings often confirm those descriptions, but sometimes raise possible alternative morphophonological analyses. For other languages our findings are novel. We argue there are at least two possible prosodic structures within Algonquian: preverbs may be parsed as separate prosodic constituents or as prosodic adjuncts.

  • Weber, Natalie, Antti Arppe, Ksenia Bogomolets, Andy Cowell, Rose-Marie Déchaine, Christopher Hammerly, Sarah Murray, Katherine Schmirler, and Rachel Vogel. forthcoming. Variation in prosodic structure across Algonquian. In Papers of the 54nd Algonquian Conference, Monica Macaulay, Margaret Noodin, Inge Genee, and Natalie Weber (eds.). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press. [lingbuzz]
  • Weber, Natalie. in press. Phonological domains in Blackfoot: structures shared with Algonquian and the misbehavior of preverbs. In Papers of the 52nd Algonquian Conference. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press. [lingbuzz]

Metrical structure and suprasegmental phonology

Blackfoot has default third syllable stress assignment, which is a typologically rare pattern. I argue in several papers that the Blackfoot pattern can only be captured with a form of underparsing at the left edge. The analysis I propose introduces a version of a NonInitiality constraint.

  • Weber, Natalie. 2016. Accent and prosody in Blackfoot verbs. In Papers of the Forty-fourth Algonquian Conference, Monica Macaulay, Margaret Noodin, and J. Randolph Valentine (eds.), 348–369. SUNY Press.
  • Weber, Natalie. 2016. Initial extrametricality and cyclicity in Blackfoot accent. In Proceedings of the Qualifying Papers Mini-conferences 2013–2014, Andrei Anghelescu, Joel Dunham, and Natalie Weber (eds.), 234-248. UBCWPL 42). [link]

Stress in Blackfoot is manifested primarily via a high f0 and so a subset of my work also examines pitch contours and the typology of phrasal accents.

  • Shaw, Jason and Natalie Weber. 2022. Assessing intonational grammars through simulation and classification of pitch trajectories: the case of mobile boundary tones in Blackfoot. Paper, LabPhon18: Phonology in a Rapidly Changing World. Virtual, Whova virtual event platform.
  • Weber, Natalie and Jason Shaw. 2022. Situating Blackfoot within a typology of (mobile) boundary tone grammars. In Proceedings of the 2021 Annual Meeting on Phonology, Peter Jurgec et al. (eds.). Washington, DC: Linguistic Society of America. DOI 10.3765/amp.v9i0.5154
  • Miyashita, Mizuki and Natalie Weber. 2020. Blackfoot pitch contour: an instrumental investigation. In Papers of the 49th Algonquian Conference, Monica Macaulay and Margaret Noodin (eds.). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.

An open question is how metrical structure is constrained by prosodic structure. As I discuss in the AMP proceedings paper below, syllables are not contained by the prosodic boundaries within Blackfoot verbs.

  • Weber, Natalie. 2021. Phase-based constraints within Match Theory. In Supplemental Proceedings of the 2020 Annual Meeting on Phonology, Ryan Bennett et al. (eds.). Washington, D.C.: Linguistic Society of America. [proceedings] [poster] [captioned video]

Morphosyntactic structure

The vP/VP stem in Blackfoot is morphologically complex. Some of my work focuses on a morphological analysis of the vP stem and categorizing the elements in terms of their syntactic distribution and semantics. One project with Rose-Marie Déchaine focused on the syntax of roots and the differences between Blackfoot and Plains Cree (both part of the Algonquian family).

  • Déchaine, Rose-Marie and Natalie Weber. 2018. Root syntax: Evidence from Algonquian. In Papers of the Forty-seventh Algonquian Conference, Monica Macaulay (ed.). Michigan State University Press.
  • Déchaine, Rose-Marie and Natalie Weber. 2015. Head-Merge, Adjunct-Merge, and the Syntax of Root Categorisation. In Proceedings of the Poster Session of the 33rd West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics, Pocholo Umbal and Kyeong-min Kim (eds.), 38–47. (SFUWPL 5). [link]

A project with Lisa Matthewson explores how the vP/VP stem morphology reflects the semantic type of the verbal complement.

  • Weber, Natalie and Lisa Matthewson. 2017. The semantics of Blackfoot arguments. In Papers of the Forty-fifth Algonquian Conference. (University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Oct. 18–20, 2013), Monica Macaulay (ed.). MSU Press.
  • Weber, Natalie and Lisa Matthewson. 2014. Reflections of complement type: The view from Blackfoot. In The Art and Craft of Semantics: A Festschrift for Irene Heim, vol. 2, Luka Crnič and Uli Sauerland (eds.), 275–298. (MITWPL 71). [link]

Language documentation

Under-documented languages like Blackfoot contain unique challenges for linguistic research, because clear generalizations about the data may not be possible without significant effort to collect, organize, and process primary data. Because of this, some of my research outcomes include research resources and language description. The most significant of these is Blackfoot Words, a free, open-source lexical database of Blackfoot. Inflected words in the database are systematically analyzed into stems and their constituent morphemes, and lemmas link instances of the “same” stem or morpheme tokens across a variety of orthographies, dialects, and time periods. Version 1.1 (2022-07-11) currently contains 4,553 inflected word tokens across 9 sources, analyzed into 4966 stem tokens and 695 morpheme tokens, representing 2,457 abstract, phonemicized stem and morpheme lemmas. All items are annotated with lexical category and other metadata.

  • Weber, Natalie, Tyler Brown, Joshua Celli, McKenzie Denham, Hailey Dykstra, Nico Kidd, Rodrigo Hernandez-Merlin, Evan Hochstein, Pinyu Hwang, Diana Kulmizev, Hannah Morrison, Matty Norris, and Lena Venkatraman. 2023. Blackfoot Words: A lexical database of Blackfoot legacy sources. Language Resources and Evaluation 57: 1207–1262. [link]
  • Weber, Natalie. 2021. Blackfoot Words. Version 1.1 (2022-07-11). A database of lexical forms from legacy language documentation materials.

Part of this research investigates variation within and across Blackfoot dialects.

  • Weber, Natalie. 2023. How much variation within one dialect? Non-permanent consonants in Káínai Blackfoot. Paper, 8th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation [ICLDC 8]. University of Hawai’i (virtual), Manoa, Mar 5, 2023 (virtual). [captioned video]
  • Weber, Natalie and Mizuki Miyashita. forthcoming. On diphthongs and digraphs in Blackfoot. In Papers of the 53nd Algonquian Conference, Monica Macaulay, Margaret Noodin, and Inge Genee (eds.), 269–287. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.

I feel it is important to produce useful language description and documentation even within theoretical linguistics papers. To that end, part of my research program deals specifically with language documentation.

  • Sanker, Chelsea, Sarah Babinski, Roslyn Burns, Marisha Evans, Jeremy Johns, Juhyae Kim, Slater Smith, Natalie Weber, and Claire Bowern. 2021. (Don’t) try this at home! The effects of recording devices and software on phonetic analysis. Language 97(4): e360–e384. (Research Report). [link]

The Fieldwork Working Group at Yale is producing a video series aimed at communities that explains how a linguist can (and cannot) support language projects. [youtube playlist]

Historical linguistics

I am interested in Blackfoot’s position within the Algonquian language family. More generally, I am interested in issues of subgrouping within families, and in developing a theory of how prosodic structure changes over time.

  • Weber, Natalie. How synchronic analysis informs subgrouping: Against Proto- Algonquian-Blackfoot. Paper, 54th Algonquian Conference. University of Colorado, Boulder, Oct 20–23, 2022.


My dissertation, “Syntax, prosody, and metrical structure in Blackfoot” (April 2020, University of British Columbia) focuses on structural correspondences at the interface. I show that the Blackfoot verbal complex has two distinct phonological domains, corresponding to a syntactic vP/VP and CP, respectively. There are two main contributions. First, I hypothesize that each syntactic phase corresponds to a particular prosodic constituent by default. I model these relationships using a modified version of Match Theory (Selkirk 2011), in which the vP/VP phase corresponds to a PWd and the CP phase corresponds to a PPh. Second, I argue that the syntax-prosody correspondence is distinct from the alignment of prosodic and metrical structure. In a parallel constraint-based model of phonology, there are separate constraints regulating each type of correspondence, which predicts that a language might satisfy isomorphic syntax-prosody correspondence at the expense of prosodic and metrical alignment, or vice versa.

Research groups

(Last updated: 30 September 2023)