USC Graduate Phonology ✳︎ Fall 2019 ✳︎ Smith

Syllabus for Ling 531A


This course deals with central issues in segmental phonology, focusing on the mental representation of individual speech sounds and their interaction. The emphasis throughout is on theory development and argumentation: how formal models are evaluated and revised in order to meet empirical and conceptual goals.

We focus in particular on the constraint-based framework Optimality Theory (OT: Prince and Smolensky 1993/2004), an alternative to rule-based frameworks in the tradition of Chomsky and Halle’s (1968) Sound Pattern of English. We will survey the motivations for adopting OT, and become familiar with its formal architecture, some of its results, and some of its shortcomings. OT makes predictions about phonological typology, and we will discuss many cross-linguistic generalizations about patterns involving sets of segments, especially as they relate to assimilation, syllable structure, and licensing. The course concludes with discussion of current issues in constraint-based frameworks, including variation and weighted constraints.

The sequel to this course, LING 531B, continues within constraint-based frameworks, focusing on prosodic phonology and phonology-morphology interactions.



Textbook and handouts

Electronic device policy


Class participation

Reading comments

Opt-out office hours

Homework assignments

In-class language data presentation

A term paper

Grade breakdown

Assignments 50%
Term paper (due 12/13) 25%
In-class language data presentation (10/2) 10%
Participation, readings, reading comments 15%

Important dates

9/2 Labor Day – no classes
10/2 In-class language data presentations
10/17–10/18 Fall recess
11/13 Deadline for in-person approval of paper topic
11/20 Deadline for submission of outline of paper proposal
11/27–12/1 Thanksgiving Holiday – no classes
12/4 In class presentations of term papers
12/13 Due date for final paper


Date Read before class Topics Deadlines
8/28 Zsiga (2013) Ch 10–11
  • Phonemes, allophones, and contrast
  • Phonotactics and alternations
  • Contrastive distribution
  • Complementary distribution
  • Contextually-limited contrast (positional neutralization)
9/4 Zsiga (2013) Ch 12–13
  • Natural classes, distinctive features, and rules
  • Why features?
  • Rule writing conventions
  • Rule ordering
  • Autosegmental representations
Assignment 1
(identifying distributions)
9/11 Kisseberth (1970)
Doing OT Ch 1–1.2
  • Introducing constraints
  • The conspiracy problem
  • A conceptual crisis
  • Introducing OT: Gen, Con, Eval
9/18 Doing OT Ch 1.3–1.9
  • OT Mechanics
  • The selection problem and VTs
  • The ranking problem and CTs
  • Ranking arguments
  • Harmonic bounding
Assignment 2
9/25 Doing OT Ch 2–2.8
Steriade (2007)
  • Phonemes, allophones, and contrast in OT
  • Richness of the Base
  • Lexicon optimization
  • Typology of contrast in OT
Assignment 3
(OT practice)
10/2 Doing OT Ch 3
  • Language data presentations
10/9 Doing OT Ch 2.10–2.12
Tesar & Smolensky (1998/2004)
  • Constraint ranking by algorithm and computer
  • RCD and EDCD
  • ERC Fusion
  • Using OT-Help
Assignment 4
10/16 Doing OT Ch 4.6
Doing OT Ch 5
Lombardi (1999/2004)
  • Factorial typology and universals
  • Syllable structure typology
  • Correspondence theory
  • Positional faithfulness
  • Assimilation typology
Assignment 5
10/23 Hayes (1999/2004)
Doing OT Ch 4
  • Justifying constraints
  • Functional grounding
  • Assimilation typology, revisited
Assignment 6
10/30 Pater (1999/2004)
Zuraw and Lu (2009)
  • Homogeneity of target / heterogeneity of process
  • *NC̥ effects
  • Dissimilation
  • The too-many-solutions problem
11/6 Bakovic (2011)
Doing OT Ch 6.4
  • Derivational opacity
  • The opacity problem
  • Output-output faithfulness
Assignment 7
11/13 Pater (2016)
  • Weighted constraints
  • Harmonic Grammar
  • Gang effects / ganging
Paper topic by now
11/20 Doing OT Ch 6.2
Coetzee & Pater (2011)
  • Phonological variation
  • Types of variation
  • MaxEnt Harmonic Grammar
Paper proposal due
11/27 No class - Thanksgiving holiday
12/4 Term paper presentations

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