Ruaridh Purse will be defending their dissertation, entitled "The Role of Morphological Structure in Phonetic Variation" on Monday November 22nd, 10am EST. The in-person defense will take place in Fisher-Bennett Room 244, but there will also be an option to attend via Zoom. The link for the Zoom meeting will be announced in the near future. The defense is open to the public and all are welcome!

Their dissertation can be found here. Please see below for the abstract.


Supervisor: Meredith Tamminga
Committee: Jianjing Kuang, David Embick
Date & Time: Monday, November 22, 10am EST

Location: Fisher-Bennett Hall, Room 244

Zoom link: TBD

The Role of Morphological Structure in Phonetic Variation

This dissertation is situated in broad debates about the architecture of the phonological grammar, and the sensitivity of gradient phonetic parameters to morphological structure. It takes, as its primary case study, a linguistic variable that is of prevailing interest to sociolinguists and phonologists alike: English Coronal Stop Deletion (old~ol'; CSD). While CSD is robustly sensitive to the morphological class of words in which coronal stops are contained, its alignment with the small class of other morphology--phonetics interactions is not straightforward.

I approach this problem from several angles, incorporating diverse methodologies. In the first place, I provide new articulatory evidence suggesting that CSD does indeed have its primary locus in the gradient phonetics, demonstrating that the magnitude of tongue tip raising to a coronal stop constriction is gradiently conditioned by morphology. Moreover, this variation is typologically distinct from the majority of other examples of phonetic phenomena conditioned by morphology, which primarily concern durational parameters.

In the rest of the dissertation, I problematise CSD's status as exceptional in this way, probing how well explanations for other morphology-sensitive phonetic phenomena (i.e. effects of prosody and word predictability) account for CSD patterns. In two perception experiments, listeners do not show perceptual sensitivity to the covert tongue tip raising observed in articulation, but do reflect an association between morphological complexity and increased duration. Finally, a large-scale corpus study shows only measures of word frequency that are relative to a word’s larger morphological paradigm predict CSD patterns accurately. This suggests that morphological structure was a key missing element in predictability accounts of the variable.

Ultimately, surface CSD may amount to the confluence of more than one type of morphologically conditioned phonetic phenomenon. This dissertation sets the stage for continued progress towards an account integrating these different factors, and generates new puzzles in the asymmetry between production and perception for variable phonology and phonetics.