John Sylak-Glassman

John Sylak-Glassman on a sidetrip from fieldwork at Brady's Beach in Bamfield, BC, Canada in June 2012

I recently earned my Ph.D. in linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.

The desire to explain rare phonological phenomena drives my work in linguistics. I am particularly interested in the extent to which phonological rara can be explained by phonetics and how this nexus should affect the architecture of phonological theory. My research is thus primarily concerned with the phonetics-phonology interface. However, typology, diachrony, and morphology also influence phonology and offer insight into its workings, so my work also investigates questions related to these fields of investigation. Examining and analyzing rare phenomena as well as their interaction with other aspects of language is a crucial part of assessing the descriptive and explanatory adequacy of phonological theories.

My dissertation, Deriving Natural Classes: The Phonology and Typology of Post-Velar Consonants, is devoted to illuminating the phonological behavior and formal representation of a class of cross-linguistically rare sounds: the post-velar consonants. The post-velar consonants are articulated at the uvular, pharyngeal/epiglottal, and glottal places of articulation and, with the exception of the glottals, are cross-linguistically rare. Uvulars occur in only ~18% of the world's languages while pharyngeal/epiglottal consonants occur in only ~4%. My dissertation provides an extensive, cross-linguistic survey of which post-velar consonants are attested and how they behave in each language's phonology. There is also discussion of the geographical distribution of languages with post-velar consonants. The dissertation then focuses on how the post-velar consonants should be represented in terms of formal phonological features, and presents a new proposal that departs from the standard Feature Geometric account and is able to account for the phonemic oppositions between all the post-velar consonants in the typological survey.

Working with speakers of lesser-studied languages is crucial to discovering phonological rara and understanding the extent to which they are influenced by phonetics or other factors. Such work is more generally important, given the fact that up to half of the world's languages may no longer be spoken at the close of the 21st century. My work with speakers of lesser-studied languages (often in situ) has allowed me to study the phonetic characteristics of post-velar consonants as well as voiced stops descended from historical nasals in Ditidaht (Wakashan; Vancouver Island), the phonetics and phonology of nasalization harmony in Máíhɨki (Western Tukanoan; Peruvian Amazon), and morphological constraints on affix ordering in Imbabura Quichua (Quechua; Ecuador, but with speakers at UC Berkeley). I have also worked on syllabification in Nuxalk (aka Bella Coola; Salish), pharyngealization in Chechen (Nakh-Daghestanian; Northeast Caucasian), and the verbal morphology of Lak (also Nakh-Daghestanian).

Contact Information


Mailing Address
Hackerman Hall 226
3400 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218

— available via my CV