Jesse Zymet

Department of Linguistics
3125 Campbell Hall, UCLA
Los Angeles, California


Welcome! I’m a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Linguistics at UCLA. My primary research develops and addresses computational models of phonology, its interfaces (with the lexicon, morphosyntax, and phonetics), and phonological learning and its biases, and tests predictions made by current hypotheses in the field using experimental methods such as nonce probe and artificial language studies.

My research has brought fieldwork and corpus data from lesser-studied languages to bear on theories of phonology, its interfaces, and learning. I'm particularly interested in Malagasy (Austronesian) and Maragoli (Bantu), the latter of which I have conducted extensive consultant work on.

Recent updates:


Lexical propensity in phonology: corpus and experimental studies

Current theories of variation are at a crossroads regarding how it is represented. Some theories code individual morphemes with diacritics such as [+/- Rule X] to account for which of them trigger or undergo some variable process. Other theories predict that morphemes may not pattern merely on a binary scale, but rather display gradient propensities to trigger or undergo a process (e.g., [0.7 Rule X]). This paper conducts a series of corpus investigations into French liaison and Slovenian palatalization, obtaining that individual morphemes pattern on an entire propensity spectrum to trigger or undergo these processes. Moreover, this paper conducts an experimental investigation into French speakers’ intuitions, and finds that learners internalize these propensities. These findings support theories that encode a morpheme’s participation on an entire spectrum rather than a binary scale.

I am currently exploring a version of Maximum Entropy Harmonic Grammar in which the learner detects item-specific propensities and encodes them in the linguistic system as a random effect (as in mixed-effects logistic regression models).

Distance-based decay in long-distance phonological processes: probabilistic models for Malagasy, Latin, English, and Hungarian

Long-distance phonological processes can exhibit distance-based decay, whereby application rate decreases as distance between the trigger and target increases. This paper gives a comprehensive treatment of the effect within Maximum Entropy Harmonic Grammar, fitting a single model to corpus data on four languages. The decay effect is established as general phenomenon, arising in harmony and dissimilation processes regulating both vowel pairs and consonants pairs. Distance is shown to be best measured in syllables rather than in segments or moras. A crosslinguistically fixed scale adjusting a single constraint weight fits the decay effect across all surveyed languages; by comparison, a constraint pair regulating local and nonlocal application consistently underpredicts gradience, whereas a family of distance-specific constraints is found to be unmotivated in light of scaling. The results support a theory in which the learner utilizes a restrictive scale for a single constraint.

Substantive bias and final (de)voicing: an artificial language study
Glewwe, Zymet (co-first authors), Adams, Jacobson, Yates, Zeng, Daland

While final devoicing facilitates articulatory ease and is typologically common, final voicing is unattested. The substantive bias hypothesis (i.e., phonetic naturalness bias hypothesis) predicts that final devoicing is easier to learn, relative to final voicing. We conducted an artificial grammar learning experiment that tested for substantive bias in the case of final devoicing/voicing. There were three training patterns, Devoicing, Voicing, and Change (a more complex final voicing/devoicing exchange rule). In test, a two-alternative forced choice task tested participants’ learning of their training pattern. Voicing was learned better than Devoicing and Change, which did not differ. This result is inconsistent with the substantive bias hypothesis, which predicts better learning of final devoicing. Thus we found no evidence supporting substantive bias, in line with Moreton & Pater (2012). In particular, our results suggest that articulatory ease does not bias phonological learning.

Irreducible parallelism in phonology: evidence for lookahead in Mohawk, Maragoli, Lithuanian, Sino-Japanese, and beyond

My colleague Jeff Adler and I found lookahead effects in the languages we were studying, coming to roughly the same conclusions (1, 2, 3). We collaborated on a paper, pooling together cases of lookahead across a diverse breadth of systems displaying stress assignment, reduplication, assimilation, and more. Optimality Theory, which has full lookahead, captures our cases, while Harmonic Serialism, which has no lookahead, fails in the same way for each. We give a unified explanation for why OT succeeds and HS fails for our systems: in each case, entire procedures -- entire sequences of processes applying to the input -- must be compared to best satisfy constraints in the language. Our findings suggest that grammatical models must have lookahead capability.

I'm currently exploring the implications of these systems for computational complexity in phonology.

My fieldwork on Maragoli focused on its rich possessive agreement system, which displays lookahead: the order in which reduplication and hiatus repair apply is conditioned by the well-formedness of the fully formed reduplicant. The system is capturable in OT, but challenging for HS.

Malagasy OCP targets a single affix: implications for morphosyntactic generalization in learning

A growing family of research suggests that learners prefer for phonological restrictions to match across morphosyntactic domains. Recent corpus investigations quantified the degree of matching and found that a strong restriction in one domain is accompanied by a weaker, matching tendency in another (Martin 2011, Chong 2016). In this paper, a corpus analysis of Malagasy finds that backness dissimilation applies exclusively and consistently to the passive imperative suffix, but is entirely uncorroborated by phonotactics, which displays a modest but highly significant harmony tendency. Though recent learning models (Martin 2011) enforce a degree of matching, these data suggest that such models must accommodate morphologically specific restrictions that lack matching tendencies elsewhere.


A crosslinguistic investigation of lexical propensity in phonology

Substantive bias and artificial (de)voicing: an artificial language learning study

Malagasy OCP targets a single affix: implications for morphosyntactic generalization in learning

Irreducible parallelism in phonology

On the relationship between sonority and glottal vibration (Risdal, Aly, Chong, Keating, Zymet)

What factors contribute to the sonority of a segment? We analyzed recordings of voiced segment types (obstruents, nasals, liquids, glides, vowels), obtaining the following primary results: strength and degree of voicing differs depending on segment type, with weaker and breathier voicing being associated with segments having a tighter restriction (as in obstruents); moreover, measures of voicing strength (strength of excitation) and breathiness (closed quotient) correlate with the sonority hierarchy (obstruents < approximants < vowels).

A case for parallelism: reduplication and repair in Maragoli

Distance-based decay in long-distance phonological processes

An investigation into apparent sublexical coordination in English (with Clara Sherley-Appel, UCSC & Google)

We present data on coordinated affix constructions (CACs): constructions such as pre- and post-operative. We argue that CACs are not merely coordinations of affixes, but rather coordinations of phrases that underwent subsequent right-node raising ([pre-operative] and [post-operative] → [[pre-t] and [post-t]] operative).

Updated January 2018.