Dissertation Oral Presentation Monday (6/16): Jessica Spencer

The Department of Linguistics is pleased to announce a dissertation oral presentation:

Stochastic effects in the grammar: Toward a usage-based model of copula contraction

Jessica Spencer

Monday, June 16, 2014, 1pm-2:15pm
Margaret Jacks Hall, Rm 126

Abstract: The aim of this analysis of conversational English corpus data is to unearth stable effects of phonological, syntactic, and frequency information in an area of the grammar prone to variation: copula contraction. Stable effects arise during active language processing and may be contrasted with the products of diachronic coalescence of several forms into fused units. Researchers have found that English auxiliary contraction (have > ‘ve, has > ‘s, be > ‘m/’re/’s, will/shall > ‘ll) is subject to phonological, processing, and grammatical constraints. These constraints are most evident in the study of the copula, as “to be” contracts with a wider range of hosts, or preceding words, i.e., with pronominal and lexical noun phrase hosts. My analysis reveals three novel findings about copula contraction. First, copula contraction is sensitive to both the collocational frequency of the copula and its host and the copula and the following word. This obtains even when lexical noun phrase hosts (as opposed to pronominal hosts) are considered in light of known grammatical constraints. The more frequent the host or the following word, the more likely the copula is to contract. Second, persistence, or the previous use of a particular form is a strong predictor of whether or not a speaker is likely to contract. Finally, copula duration shows a sensitivity to the same syntactic constraints that condition contraction. These facts taken together present of picture of copula contraction whereby an allomorphic disticntion and a phonetic feature both show sensitivity to information across all levels of the grammar.

(The format for this open part of the oral exam is a 30-45 minute talk by the PhD candidate followed by questions from those attending, for a total of no more than 75 minutes. Please arrive promptly!)

Oral exam committee: John Rickford (Advisor), Arto Anttila, Tom Wasow, Penny Eckert
University oral exam chair: Ewart Thomas (Psychology)