The very common deletion processes that target /t/ and /d/ in various English dialects have been discussed in detail in linguistic research, but English does not exhibit other well-known phonological processes such as /s/ deletion, a process that is very common in a number of Romance languages. In addition, it is not clear how we could explain the asymmetry in the hierarchy of deletion rates of English stops: /b/ deletes more frequently than /g/, but /k/ and /N/ delete more frequently than /p/ and /m/. This paper traces some of the reasons for the in-language typology of deletion processes in English to phone informativity, a concept first introduced in Cohen Priva & Jurafsky (2008). Phone informativity tries to approximate the usefulness of recognizing a phone for what it is: how useful it is for language users to understand that some segment in a sequence of segments they hear is a /t/, for instance, rather than some other phone. This approximation is done by assessing how helpful each phone usually is in word recognition, given a corpus of spoken language data. The paper considers several theoretical and functional approaches such as markedness, underspecification, frequency and local predictability, and shows that they need to be complemented by informativity in order to solve the puzzle of the asymmetry in the hierarchy of deletion rates of English stops. In addition, the paper uses multivariate logistic regression to show that phone informativity contributes significantly to evaluating the deletion rates in spoken corpora while controlling for factors introduced by previous accounts. Phone informativity emerges as a new window into the forces that shape linguistic behavior.
Proceedings of the 27th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics
edited by Natasha Abner and Jason Bishop
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