Three models for learning phonological categories

John A. Goldsmith; Aris Xanthos. 4 September, 2008.
Communicated by John Goldsmith.


This paper describes in detail several explicit computational methods for approaching such questions in phonology as the vowel/consonant distinction, the nature of vowel harmony systems, and syllable structure, appealing solely to distributional information. Beginning with the vowel/consonant distinction, we consider a method for its discovery by the Russian linguist Sukhotin, and compare it to two newer methods of more general interest, both computational and theoretical, today. The first is based on spectral decomposition of matrices, allowing for dimensionality reduction in a finely controlled way, and the second is based on finding parameters for maximum likelihood in a hidden Markov model. While all three methods work for discovering the fairly robust vowel/consonant distinction, we extend the newer ones to the discovery of vowel harmony, and in the case of the probabilistic model, to the discovery of some aspects of syllable structure.

Original Document

The original document is available in PDF (uploaded 4 September, 2008 by John Goldsmith).