OCP 7 is supported by

Bases, Corpus, Langage

Old World Conference in Phonology 7
Nice, 28-30 January 2010
invited speakers:
Christian Uffmann, Eugeniusz Cyran, Marilyn Vihman
Submissions are invited for 20+10 minutes oral presentations on any topic related to templates in phonological theory.

Templates and phonological theory

Templatic effects in phonology are generally considered to be closely related to a specific language family (Afro-Asiatic and especially Semitic), and to a specific kind of morpheme management that is found in these languages, non-concatenative morphology. There is reason to believe that the century-old Arabic tradition of templatic activity and its expression in autosegmental terms since John McCarthy's Ph.D in 1979 have stamped the study of templates in natural language with a Semitic bias: templates are thought of along the lines of the Semitic example, and this is also true for more recent work that challenges the autosegmental account by calling the (cognitive and lexical) independence of the consonantal root into question.

This workshop proposes to appraise the notion of template and templatic activity/ templatic effect by placing the debate beyond the narrowly Semitic prism. While the Semitic reference is certainly necessary and in many cases helpful, our goal is to create an inventory (or to expand the existing one) of non-Semitic/Afro-Asiatic languages that show templatic activity, and to define what a template is, i.e. identify the smallest common denominator of all effects in natural language that are said to be templatic.
Given that templatic activity beyond Semitic is described and recognized in a growing body of studies, the empirical basis may be solid enough for drawing cross-linguistic generalizations.
Issues that are worth considering include the following:

  • are there different kinds of templates? For example, are Semitic and non-Semitic templates different in kind?
  • what is it that all templates share?
  • do templates have an internal structure? If so, what does this structure look like and how is it accessed by morpho-syntax?
  • how does Template Satisfaction work in an environment that allows for empty (syllabic) positions?
  • are templates always associated to a morpho-semantic category?
  • what role do templates play in the information flow between phonology and morpho-syntax, and how exactly is templatic information processed in intermodular communication?

Addressing the first question, an empirically relevant distinction appears to be between templates that require a certain and invariable shape, and those that will be happy with any shape, provided that a requirement regarding the overall size is satisfied. The former type may be called fixed shape template: this is what is known from Semitic where form II for example requires the gemination of the middle consonant (CVCCVC), and of no other. The latter occurs for example in Czech or Somali (Cushitic) where an overall size restriction is associated to a certain morpho-semantic category: Czech iteratives for example must weigh exactly three morae (where mora is a descriptive term: short vowel = one mora, long vowel = two morae), and this requirement may be met by variable shapes: CVCVCVC as much as CVVCVC.
The distinction between fixed and variable shapes appears to be correlated to affixal activity. Effects of variable shape templates are triggered by affixal activity: a (minimal or maximal, or both minimal and maximal) size restriction lies on some derived category, and the affixes that derive this category are of variable size. For example, the vowel of a CVC root must lengthen in presence of a -VC suffix (but remains short when a -VCV suffix is added). By contrast, fixed templates of the Semitic kind do not appear to be related to any affixal activity. In other words, there seems to be a relationship between non-concatenative morphology and fixed shape templates (which excludes variable shape templates, which are unheard of in Semitic).

Finally, templates raise the question why they exist in the first place: while it is true that they may be a morpheme (this is the case of fixed templates: nothing but the gemination of C2 marks form II), there are also cases where templates serve no purpose, i.e. where the morpho-syntactic category that they are associated with is also marked elsewhere. This is the case for variable shape templates where the caegory is also marked by affixes. A possible track is that templates have a cognitive, rather than a grammatical function. That is, they structure the linear chain by implementing yardsticks, which are then exploited in perception and production. On this count, templates as a cognitive strategy are accessible to all humans; they may be called on by linguistic systems at any time and be implemented in various ways.
This perspective is supported by evidence from first language acquisition, which significantly broadens the horizon of templatic studies. While the notion of templates is used in the acquisitional literature (at least) since Macken (1992), it appears that thus far there was little exchange, if any, between child-based and adult-based phonologists that work on templates. What is especially interesting about templates in acquisition is that they emerge in absence of any stimulus, i.e. in the production of children whose target language does not witness any templatic activity. Just as interesting is the fact that these templates disappear as the children become more expert and approach their target. The question is thus what role templates play in acquisition: why do children bother introducing this kind of extra burden into their system? Also, are we really talking about the same object when compared to templates in adult language? The lessons that may be learned from the comparison of child and adult templates appear to be quite challenging. The invited talk by Marilyn Vihman will try to bridge the gap between phonologists that work on acquisitional and adult data.