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Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 859–896 | Cite as

Information theoretic approaches to phonological structure: the case of Finnish vowel harmony

  • John Goldsmith
  • Jason Riggle
Article

Abstract

This paper offers a study of vowel harmony in Finnish as an example of how information theoretic concepts can be employed in order to better understand the nature of phonological structure. The probability assigned by a phonological model to a corpus is used as a means to evaluate how good such a model is, and information theoretic methods allow us to determine the extent to which each addition to our grammar results in a better treatment of the data. We explore a natural implementation of autosegmental phonology within an information theoretic perspective, and find that it is empirically inadequate; that is, it performs more poorly than a simple bigram model. We extend the model by means of a Boltzmann distribution, taking into consideration both local, segment-to-segment, relations and distal, vowel-to-vowel, relations, and find a significant improvement. We conclude with some general observations on how we propose to revisit other phonological questions from this perspective.

Keywords

Information theory Learning Vowel harmony 

Notes

Acknowledgements

For helpful and insightful discussion, suggestions, and comments we would like to thank: Max Bane, Ryan Bennett, Pierre Collet, Antonio Galves, Sharon Goldwater, Yu Hu, Junko Itô, Mark Johnson, Theano Starvinos, John Sylak, Colin Wilson, and Alan Yu.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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