LING 501 Term Paper; Look for a pattern in a phonological data set that relates to topics discussed in class: patterns of feature change, deletion, or insertion; restrictions on syllable structure, etc

LING 501 Term Paper; Look for a pattern in a phonological data set that relates to topics discussed in class: patterns of feature change, deletion, or insertion; restrictions on syllable structure, etc 150 150 Affordable Capstone Projects Written from Scratch

The term paper is intended to demonstrate that you (1) grasp introductory phonological concepts, models and arguments and (2), can evaluate how these apply to data not discussed in class. The paper should not only accurately describe relevant analyses in published sources but also demonstrate evidence of independent thinking and the ability to clearly present a coherent argument of one’s own.[2] You should not mindlessly copy vocabulary or formalisms used in a particular source. Where relevant, translate and evaluate what a particular description or analysis means in the context of the phonological theories presented in the course. There should be no novice mistakes, for example in the form of confusing letters with sounds and stating sound rules as resulting from orthographic conventions

Steps to take

Phonology is quite a “technical” field and that means that you will encounter sources that a beginning phonologist can only partially understand. You are also going to be limited in what you can contribute to ongoing discussions about the properties of a theoretical framework. However, there are some interesting ways in which you CAN write a paper that shows off your insights and adds your own voice.  Start by reading and don’t be discouraged if you do not understand a source in its entirety. Sometimes even the first few pages of a source can be helpful in presenting a clear introduction to a known phonological puzzle.

Identify a descriptive challenge

Look for a pattern in a phonological data set that relates to topics discussed in class: patterns of feature change, deletion, or insertion; restrictions on syllable structure, etc. What is/are the generalization(s) according to the author(s)? Are there exceptions? Are these truly exceptions or is there a missed generalization according to others? Please note that stress, tone, and intonation will not get much attention in this class. You need not avoid them altogether, but do not select a topic that requires a solid understanding of theories pertaining to these areas of phonology.


The diminutive suffix in Spanish comes in different forms: [-ito/a], [-sito/a], and [–esito/a]. Find sources that describe what determines the choice of suffix. Do the authors agree? Are there pesky data that don’t fit the stated generalizations?



The Coda in Korean simplifies through deletion as well as neutralization (only some consonants can occur in the coda). What is the pattern?

Further examine the data

You can do this, for example, in one of the following ways:

  • Double check whether the data are confirmed by native speaker informant(s). (That native speaker could be you). In your paper demonstrate clearly how you have checked whether the patterns apply. What judgments did you seek? What are your data? If you suspect that there is dialectal variation, who uses which variety?
  • Design and execute a wug-test. This makes sense for a set of data where productivity is a potential issue. What happens when native speakers are confronted with novel words? Do they apply the rules as predicted by the analysis? If not, where are the differences? Here as well, describe precisely how you executed the wug-test, what data you obtained and how these compare to previous descriptions of the data.
  • Examine the pronunciation of loan words in the language as it pertains to the pattern that you have identified. (For example, do Korean speakers simplify the codas of loanwords as they do in native words?) Collect existing loanwords.

Draw connections with theoretical proposals

You must explicitly refer to phonological concepts introduced in this course in your paper. For example, can one account for the data with the linear (Hayes) or OT model (Kager) proposed in class? Can the phonological features in Hayes’ textbook characterize the natural classes of sounds involved? Is the rule that you identify showing typical behaviors of a lexical rule, or a rule of allophonic variation? Do the data fit with general predictions about properties of the syllable in natural languages?

Where or to the extent possible, also explain why these data and their accompanying analysis matter. What are the implications of a particular analysis for assumptions about the structure of the language in question or even for aspects of a phonological model of natural language.

Be prepared to change your topic while you are working on your paper. You may discover a better topic, or – quite likely – need to narrow your focus. That’s to be expected. In general, it is better to pick a narrower topic and give it an in depth treatment rather than trying to cover too much territory in a superficial fashion.

Structure and formatting of the paper

The paper is due on the last day of classes and should be approximately 10 – 12 pages long. Your paper must be clear and well-structured. Pay attention to how the sources that you consult present their arguments and data and do not hesitate to imitate their approach.[3] Here is the outline of a typical paper:

  1. Introduction of the topic. This often takes the form of a clear description of a phonological pattern.
  2. Creation of context: Who has described this pattern in the past, and why is this an important issue to tackle?
  3. The plan: What does the author intend to accomplish and how?
  4. The author’s contribution (the body of the paper)
  5. A look back: what has been achieved? Are there questions worth pursuing in the future?

Use of APA style is preferred. Pay close attention to how linguists present their data. APA does not specify this. LSA does. Follow the LSA guidelines or one used in a published source.

Approval and Stages of Completion

  1. Paper Proposal (Due in week 6 -10/2) (5% of term paper grade): Your paper proposal should cover #1-#3 of the structure described above.
  2. Progress Report (Due in week 10) (10% of term paper grade): The progress report should also include a draft of #4.
  3. Final version (Due on the last day of classes)

A rubric for each submission will be provided.

[1] Inspired by previously stated paper descriptions from Bruce Hayes and Kenneth Luna

[2] Even if you find a source that does this. It happens.

[3] Their approach, not their actual execution. This is not an invitation to plagiarize 😉