Friday, January 07, 2005

LSA Blogging

I spent this afternoon at the LSA Annual Meeting. The talks have so far been better than usual. The LSA conference is always a great place to talk to linguists you haven't seen for a year or two, but the talks are often somewhat dissapointing. This year has been a pleasant surprise. Here are some highlights from talks I attended:

Jason Riggle presented an interesting computational study modelling the simultaneous learning of multiple phonological grammars. The idea was to build a computational learner that, when presented evidence from multiple different grammars, could sort everything out into the right grammars. My main question about the study was raised,
both by Jason and by my friend Marc during the question period: Jason's learner is fed input-output pairs; could a similar method work if the learner was only given inputs? Interesting work.

Johanna Brugman, Bonny Sands, and Amanda Miller-Ockhuizen presented a fascinating paper on the phonetics and phonology of clicks in N|u, a Khoisan language (obviously, since it has clicks!). It turns out, I learned today, that the term "velaric" which we use to describe the airstream mechanism for clicks is acutally quite misleading, since the posterior closure in clicks is often uvular or pharyngeal. The authors
presented a very nice phonetic study of several aspects of N|u clicks. I was most impressed by the idea that you have to characterize the tongue position for both the anterior and posterior closures separately and in a rather nuanced way. I find it remarkable that a set of sounds found, for the most part, in only one language family*, could display such a huge degree of elaboration. It's one of those beautiful mysteries that make one glad to be a linguist.

I'm very sorry that I missed Laura Dilley's talk "No tone is an island," which I heard was excellent. Instead, I started talking to Peter Norquest about his recent fieldwork in China (on the Hlai langauges of Hainan) and other topics Southeast Asian. It was time well spent, but like all good decisions, it entailed some level of sacrifice.

*Yeah, yeah... I know about the exceptions, but they're just that.

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