One more Paper at the SIGTYP Workshop Accepted

Another paper, submitted to the SIGTYP workshop SIGTYP workshop organized as part of the EACL, was accepted last week. This study, common work by Julius Steuer, Badr. M. Abdullah, myself, and Dietrich Klakow, investigates information-theoretic aspects of vowel harmony reflected in multilingual wordlists. A first version of this study is now already available online.

We present a cross-linguistic study that aims to quantify vowel harmony using data-driven computational modeling. Concretely, we define an information-theoretic measure of harmonicity based on the predictability of vowels in a natural language lexicon, which we estimate using phoneme-level language models (PLMs). Prior quantitative studies have relied heavily on inflected word-forms in the analysis of vowel harmony. We instead train our models using cross-linguistically comparable lemma forms with little or no inflection, which enables us to cover more under-studied languages. Training data for our PLMs consists of word lists with a maximum of 1000 entries per language. Despite the fact that the data we employ are substantially smaller than previously used corpora, our experiments demonstrate the neural PLMs capture vowel harmony patterns in a set of languages that exhibit this phenomenon. Our work also demonstrates that word lists are a valuable resource for typological research, and offers new possibilities for future studies on low-resource, under-studied languages.