Research interests

Jennifer L. Smith | Department of Linguistics | UNC Chapel Hill

In a nutshell, linguistics is the study of the structure and use of human language, and of the implications of this structure and use for our understanding of human cognition. Within linguistics, my research focus is phonology, the study of sound-structure systems in language. Work in phonology over the last few decades strongly supports a model of the phonological grammar in which the sound patterns of each individual language are enforced by a set of violable constraints that can be prioritized differently in different languages.

What, then, are these constraints like? My research program is organized around the following key questions:

I address these broad questions through projects on more specific topics, such as (follow these links for more information and relevant publications): positional effects in phonology (including lexical-category effects/"noun faithfulness"); Fukuoka Japanese intonation and other work on the phonology of Japanese; loanword phonology; and sonority and syllable structure.

Some of my work is experiment-based, using methodologies that range from recording speakers producing utterances in the phonetics laboratory, to experiments on blend phonology, to artificial-language learning.

Past research projects have also addressed the phonology of other East Asian languages and phonology and reading.

View a list of all downloadable papers and handouts Download my CV (PDF)

Lexical-category effects in phonology (including "noun faithfulness")

(This topic is related to the general research area of positional effects.)

While the morphosyntactic differences between nouns, verbs, and adjectives have long been important in linguistic theory, there are also intriguing differences in the phonological behavior of words of different lexical categories. For example, I have found typological evidence for a hierarchy of phonological privilege, N > A > V. Another typological finding is that category-specific phonological effects are overwhelmingly prosodic rather than segmental. My most recent work on this topic recruits artificial-language learning methodology to investigate whether there is evidence for a bias toward either noun privilege or prosodic effects in category-specific phonology. My collaborative research on blend phonology also explores aspects of category-specific phonological privilege.

Papers, handouts, or posters on lexical-category effects in phonology

Fukuoka Japanese intonation

The intonational phonology of wh questions in Fukuoka Japanese shows interesting patterns that bear on current debates about the nature of the phonology-syntax interface. I have recorded Fukuoka speakers producing wh and focus constructions and have analyzed the intonation of these utterances.

Papers, handouts, or posters on Fukuoka Japanese intonation

Loanword phonology

Loanword adaptation — phonological alterations that words may undergo when they are borrowed — is influenced by both phonetic and sociocultural factors, but I argue that the phonological grammar is also involved, via a correspondence relation between outputs and the posited source-language (pLs) representation. I have analyzed aspects of the loanword phonology of Japanese, and (in collaboration with Justin Pinta) of Guaraní.

Papers, handouts, or posters on loanword phonology

Blend phonology

Blends are formed by combining material from multiple source words, with truncation and/or overlap (as in spoon + forkspork). Blend phonology has previously been shown to be subject to the constraints of the non-blend phonology of the relevant language. In a joint project with Elliott Moreton and Katya Pertsova, and students Rachel Broad, Brandon Prickett, and Katherine Shaw (part of a larger NSF-funded project in collaboration with Fabian Monrose), we argue that blend phonology is also an important testing ground for emergent effects — phonological factors that are typologically attested, but not active in the non-blend phonology of the language in question. For example, we find emergent effects of category-specific phonology in novel English blends.

Papers, handouts, or posters on blend phonology

Artificial-language learning

In recent work, I have begun to apply artificial-language learning methodology to projects addressing lexical-category effects in phonology.

Papers, handouts, or posters involving artificial-language learning

Positional effects in phonology

Sometimes, a markedness or faithfulness constraint is enforced only in a subset of the forms of a language. Such positional or domain-specific effects have implications for our understanding of phonology and its interfaces. (My work on lexical-category effects is also related to this topic.)

One line of work in this area is concerned with positional augmentation, markedness requirements that are imposed exclusively on phonologically prominent or "strong" positions. I argue that positional augmentation always involves perceptually salient properties, so it is relevant for our understanding of the relationship between formal and functional factors in shaping the constraint set.

I am also interested in various aspects of positional faithfulness, one approach to the ability of strong positions to resist processes of neutralization that affect other positions.

Papers, handouts, or posters on positional effects in phonology

Sonority and syllable structure

The search for a phonetically motivated account of why onset glides are subject to different sonority restrictions in different languages has implications for the formal representation of syllable-internal structure and the constraints Onset and *Onset/X.

The formal structure of the sonority scale itself can also be a testing ground for other assumptions about phonological theory, markedness scales, and the architecture of the phonological grammar, as in the case of modeling phonological variation (in joint work with Elliott Moreton).

Papers, handouts, or posters on sonority and syllable structure

The phonology of Japanese and other East Asian languages

I am interested in various aspects of Japanese phonology. In addition to my work on Fukuoka Japanese intonation, several of the papers on loanword phonology and lexical-category effects focus on data from Japanese.

I have also looked at phonological phenomena in Chinese languages and Korean.

Papers, handouts, or posters on the phonology of Japanese

Papers, handouts, or posters on other East Asian languages

Phonology and reading

A joint research project with Gary Feng and Elliott Moreton, looking at phonological factors in reading, reading acquisition, and reading difficulties.

Papers, handouts, or posters on phonology and reading