Research interests

Jennifer L. Smith | UNC Chapel Hill

My research in phonology -- the study of sound-structure systems in human language -- is largely organized around the following questions:

I address these general questions through projects on more specific topics, such as Fukuoka Japanese intonation, positional effects in phonology (including lexical category effects/"noun faithfulness"), sonority and syllable structure, and loanword phonology.

Other themes that appear in my research are the phonology of Japanese and of other East Asian languages, and phonology and reading.

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


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.

View a list of papers on Fukuoka Japanese intonation

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

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, there is 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. (This topic is related to the general research area of positional effects, described below.)

View a list of papers on lexical-category effects in phonology

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. (The work on lexical-category effects described above is 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.

View a list of papers 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).

View a list of papers on sonority and syllable structure

Loanword phonology

Loanword adaptation -- the phonological alterations that words may undergo when they are borrowed -- is another area where the relationship between formal and functional factors can be explored. Both phonetic and sociocultural factors may influence phonological patterns.

View a list of papers on loanword phonology

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.

In addition to Japanese, I have also worked on phonological phenomena in Chinese languages and Korean.

View a list of papers on the phonology of Japanese

View a list of papers 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.

View a list of papers on phonology and reading