Phonology is a core area of linguistic training. Working within the generative tradition, phonologists at USC pursue case studies and comparative research that contribute to developing formal models of the mental representation of sound structure.
The primary faculty with an active research focus in phonology are Rachel Walker and Karen Jesney. An additional member of our faculty is Abigail Kaun (adjunct, Department of Linguistics, and Associate Dean of Academic Programs and Student Affairs at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism). Phonologists at USC have considerable research interaction and collaboration with faculty whose primary research focus is in phonetics, including Dani Byrd, Sandra Disner, Louis Goldstein, Khalil Iskarous, and Shri Narayanan.
To make progress in phonological theory, it is essential to examine the nature of phonological representations and the relations that exist between them. Research at USC bears on these fundamental issues, addressing such issues as the formal relations that exist between segments locally and at a distance, and the modeling of position-sensitive alternations and asymmetries (Jesney and Walker). Additional work addresses the relation between formal properties and perception / production in long-distance versus local phenomena (Walker), and the role of locality in cumulative constraint interaction (Jesney). Both Jesney and Walker conduct research assessing evidence for parallel vs. serial architecture in constraint-based theories.
Phonology is a formal system that intersects with other dimensions of formal linguistic structure. Faculty and graduate students at USC have investigated topics in the interface of phonology with morphology, syntax, and semantics. Phonology also intersects with computational and cognitive areas. From a computational perspective, modeling phonological learning and assessing results against longitudinal acquisition data is a central concern (Jesney). In addition, a collaborative project by Toby Mintz and Rachel Walker investigates the role of vowel assimilation in facilitating language acquisition.
The phonology community at USC is active in promoting dialogue on each other's research and in developing students' academic and professional skills. The USC Phon Lunch provides a forum for intellectual exchange on topics in phonology and phonetics, and the USC Phonetics Laboratory provides a common space for meetings, experiments, and computing facilities. Recent graduate student presentations at refereed conferences include NELS, WCCFL, CLS, LSA, WECOL, and LSRL, among others.