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USC prof speaks on Polish phonology

<nt Professor of Linguistics at University of Southern California Ania Lubowicz spoke on Polish phonology as part of the Carleton’s Linguistics Colloquium series. Lubowicz will be a Visiting Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Carleton this spring, teaching Topics in Phonology.

As a college student in Poland, Lubowicz’s initial academic pursuits were in English Studies, particularly British literature. However, Lubowicz’s attraction to formal reasoning led her to consider becoming a mathematician. Eventually, she combined her two passions and ended studying linguistics.

“Linguistics has ties with math,” Lubowicz commented.

Entitled “Paradigmatic Contrast in Polish,” Lubowicz’s talk walked her audience through how sounds are affected in Polish nouns when suffixes are attached. She showed how Polish phonologically “preserves contrast” in similar-sounding words. Lubowicz said that the phonological processes occurring in Polish “goes beyond” just avoiding homophonous words, which sound the same but have divergent meanings.

“(The talk) was really the most modern research I think we’ve seen in Phonology and an introduction to what the modern linguistics world looks like,” said Scott Graber ‘13

Looking at an English example, Lubowicz demonstrated the idea of transferring contrast. Transferring contrast occurs in Polish when suffixes are added to certain nouns. Lubowicz said that the context gives two words that sound nearly identical a distinct grammatical and semantic interpretation. For example, when one says “writer,” and then “rider.” However, the contrast is preserved, even when the two words are uttered in isolation in most American English speakers in vowel length, but not in the /t/-/d/ distinction,” with “rider” holding out the “i” longer. In British English, contrast between “writer” and “rider” is preserved in both the vowel length and the /t/-/d/ difference.

When introducing certain Polish nouns, Lubowicz showed that the basic version of two words will be different, but they will converge on a near-identical form once a suffix is added. For example, the words for “leaf” and “letter” sound different when they are the subject of a sentence, as the nominative form (liść and list). However, when they appear in a different form, which is marked to show it is the object of “about,” they are identical if it were not for the phonologically contrasting affix each takes. Both words, “leaf” and “letter,” start the same, as liść, but “about a leaf” is said o liść-u while “about a letter” is said o liść-e. Thanks to that small change in the sound of the word, a different context of the same noun—whether a leaf or a letter—still allows the speaker to easily communicate which item he or she is referencing.

Throughout her talk on “what drives the phonological process,” Lubowicz explained complicated linguistic theory while engaging her audience with questions to encourage interaction and offer clarification. Linguistics major Karl Snyder ‘12 noted, “She spoke in a very accessible way without too much convoluted terminology.”
When fellow Linguistics major Edwin Avalos ’11 was asked what he is most looking forward to about taking Lubowicz’s Topics In Phonology course this spring, he said. “It’s phonology, my favorite subject, so basically everything. I really missed talking about theory so the class is going to be a big plus.”

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