Analyzing Typological Structure: 
From Categorical to Probabilistic Phonology


The Department of Linguistics at Stanford University will host a one-day workshop dedicated to exploring the typological limits of probabilistic phonological grammars. The workshop is partially funded by the France-Stanford Center for Interdisciplinary Studies as part of the project The Mathematics of Language Universals.

        Where: Stanford Humanities Center, Stanford University, 
424 Santa Teresa Street, Stanford, CA 94305

        When: Saturday, September 22, 2018

        Invited speakers: Bruce Hayes (UCLA) and Jeffrey Heinz (Stony Brook)


A basic question in theoretical phonology is what a theory includes and what it excludes. A good theory should be flexible enough to closely fit the data at hand, but it should also have empirical typological content and exclude unnatural patterns. In terms of empirical fit modern phonological theories are ambitious and successful. In terms of typological content their predictions are often obscure and sometimes unknown. The typological limits of phonological theories have been studied from various perspectives, including formal language theory (Johnson 1972, Kaplan & Kay 1994, Chandlee & Heinz 2017), factorial typologies (Prince and Smolensky 1993), Property Theory (Alber, DelBusso, & Prince 2016), algebraic methods (Merchant & Riggle 2016), and T-orders (Anttila & Magri 2018). These theoretical developments have in turn produced useful software, including finite-state tools (Beesley and Karttunen 2003, Huldén 2017), OTSoft (Hayes, Tesar, & Zuraw 2017), OTHelp (Staubs, Becker, Potts, Pratt, McCarthy, & Pater 2010), OTKit (Biró 2010), PyPhon (Riggle, Bane, & Bowman 2011), OTWorkplace (Prince, Tesar, & Merchant 2012), T-Order Generator (Anttila and Andrus 2006), and OTOrder (Djalali & Jeffers 2015), among others. These tools make it possible to explore the typological predictions of large and complex models that progressively approximate the empirical complexity of natural language phonology.

A major obstacle that stands in the way of progress is that typological analysis tools usually only apply to categorical models. Over the past two decades many phonologists have turned to quantitative data and worked extensively on patterns of stochastic variation and gradient acceptability. Such analyses often invoke probabilistic grammars, such as Stochastic OT (Boersma and Hayes 2001), Noisy Harmonic Grammar (Boersma and Pater 2016), and MaxEnt (Goldwater and Johnson 2003, Hayes and Wilson 2008). This work typically has the goal of showing that the models are rich enough to avoid undergeneration, but less attention has been paid to the question of overgeneration. The key question is how to analyze the typological structure induced by probabilistic models. The question is not trivial: while the typologies predicted by categorical phonology are usually finite, probabilistic frameworks generate an infinite family of different probability distributions.

The workshop plans to address questions of the following type:
     What do probabilistic typologies look like?
     How can one effectively compute probabilistic typologies?
     Do probabilistic grammars overgenerate?
     How can one tell whether probabilistic typologies contain crazy grammars?
     How do Optimality Theory, Harmonic Grammar, and MaxEnt differ typologically?
     What is the relationship between learnability and overgeneration?
     Do learnability arguments trump tight typological predictions?


 8:45-9:10   Breakfast 
 9:10-9:15   Opening remarks
 9:15-10:00   Invited speaker: Bruce Hayes (UCLA)
Some brief remarks on maxent grammars
 10:00-10:45   Charlie O'Hara (USC)
Rare Hard-To-Learn Patterns Stably Learned Due To Language-Specific Lexical Frequencies
 10:45-11:15   Coffee Break
 11:15-12:00   Aaron Kaplan (University of Utah)
Noisy HG Models of Eastern Andalusian Harmony
 12:00-2:00   Lunch
 2:00-2:45   Arto Anttila (Stanford) and Giorgio Magri (CNRS)
Comparing SHG and ME from the perspective of equiprobable mappings (slides 1; slides 2)
 2:45-3:30   Coral Hughto (Umass)
Emergent avoidance of cumulativity and variability in phonological typology
 3:30-4:00   Coffee Break 
 4:00-4:45   Invited speaker: Jeffrey Heinz (Stony Brook)
Factors of Typological Structure
 4:45--  General discussion 
 7:00--   Dinner in Palo Alto 

Practical information 

The workshop will meet at the Stanford Humanities Center, located at:

    424 Santa Teresa Street
    Stanford, CA 94305
    a map is available here

Participation to the workshop is free. If you would like to attend dinner, please let us know, so that we can arrange reservations.

Information about lodging options around Stanford University is available at Please be advised that the workshop will meet during the Stanford New Student Orientation weekend, so early hotel reservation is advisable.   


Arto Anttila (Stanford) and Giorgio Magri (CNRS).


Support from the following institutions is gratefully acknowledged: the Stanford Department of Linguistics, the Stanford Humanities Center, the France-Stanford Center for Interdisciplinary Studies (as part of the project The Mathematics of Language Universals), and the Agence National de la Recherche (as part of the project The mathematics of segmental phonotactics).