Connor Mayer

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

Recent updates:

  • I'll be presenting my paper "Capturing gradience in long-distance phonology using probabilistic tier-based strictly local grammars" at the 2021 meeting of the Society for Computation in Linguistics on February 17th, 2021. You can find the final version here.
  • I've posted a draft of a paper "Gradient opacity in Uyghur backness harmony." Feedback is very welcome!
  • My paper with Robert Daland titled "A method for projecting features from observed sets of phonological classes" has been published in Linguistic Inquiry! You can find a pre-print here, and the final version here.
  • Our paper "Quantal biomechanical effects in speech postures of the lips" has been accepted to the Journal of Neurophysiology! You can find it here.

I'm a fifth year PhD candidate in the Department of Linguistics at UCLA. I am on the academic job market this fall, and I expect to receive my PhD in May 2021. My advisor is Bruce Hayes, and my committee members are Kie Zuraw, Tim Hunter, and Adam McCollum (Rutgers).

My research combines computation with a wide range of converging methodologies to explore questions of interest to phonetics and phonology. I focus on learning and learnability, particularly in questioning or supplementing notions of innateness in linguistic theory. The questions that guide much of my research are (a) the extent to which linguistic structure is learned vs. innate; (b) how innate biases shape the learning process; and (c) how we can better understand the source and nature of these biases. I view computation as a tool that can be used to complement empirical and theoretical methodologies, testing claims and providing new predictions. I have used such methodology to probe the role of distributional information in phonological learning, to investigate the ways in which the biomechanics and motor control of the vocal tract shape our speech systems, and to explore the interaction between acoustic cue weighting and vocabulary acquisition, among other topics.

I also work extensively on the Uyghur language (Turkic: China). My dissertation is a collection of related papers that approach the phenomenon of backness harmony in Uyghur using a range of methodologies, including acoustic study, large-scale corpus work, wug testing, elicitation, formal language theory, and phonological modeling. As a whole, my dissertation demonstrates that backness harmony in Uyghur consists of a productive phonological core with many lexicalized components that have emerged as the result of extensive borrowing and sound change. I relate these observations to theories of the mathematical complexity of phonological patterns, representations of opaque processes in the grammar, and theories account for discrepancies between lexical patterns and wug test responses. I have also performed descriptive research on this underdocumented language, including its intonation.