Rory Turnbull

I am an assistant professor in the Linguistics Department at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and I am interested in how people use and mentally represent the sounds of language. Before coming to Hawai‘i, I was a postdoctoral researcher in the Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique in Paris. I hold a PhD in Linguistics from the Ohio State University, and an MA (Hons) in Linguistics and English Language from the University of Edinburgh.

Click to download my CV (pdf).


I am interested in the phonological processes and representations of the mental lexicon and as such my research sits at the intersection between phonetics, phonology, and psycholinguistics. In my PhD dissertation, I investigated the cognitive source of frequency and predictability effects in spoken language. More generally, I am interested in the ways that frequency, predictability, and other usage-based factors influence linguistic sound structures. My current research examines how factors of lexical organization, such as phonological neighbourhood density, influence speech production and perception. Additionally, I maintain an active research agenda in intonation and prosody, investigating the relationships between predictability, context, and the phonetics of prosodic contrasts.

I use a wide variety of research paradigms, drawing from experimental phonetics, cognitive psychology, and theoretical phonology. There is no “one size fits all” solution to research in the language sciences. This methodological pluralism entails a cross-linguistic approach, which is vital for the advancement of the field, particularly when a key finding is based on data from a small number of languages. Several of my projects involve cross-linguistic studies and diverse methodological approaches.


Journal articles

  1. D Robert Ladd, Rory Turnbull, Charlotte Browne, Catherine Caldwell-Harris, Lesya Ganushchak, Kate Swoboda, Verity Woodfield, & Dan Dediu. (2013). Patterns of individual differences in the perception of missing-fundamental tones. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. 39 (5): 1386–1397. Paper (pdf).
  2. Rachel Steindel Burdin, Sara Phillips-Bourass, Rory Turnbull, Murat Yasavul, Cynthia G Clopper, & Judith Tonhauser. (2015). Variation in the prosody of focus in head- and head/edge-prominence languages. Lingua, 165(B): 254–276. Paper (pdf).
  3. Rory Turnbull, Rachel Steindel Burdin, Cynthia G Clopper, & Judith Tonhauser. (2015). Contextual predictability and the prosodic realisation of focus: A cross-linguistic comparison. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 30(9): 1061–1076. Paper (pdf).
  4. Seth J Weiner & Rory Turnbull. (2016). Constraints of tones, vowels and consonants on lexical selection in Mandarin Chinese. Language and Speech, 59(1): 59–82. Paper (pdf).
  5. Rory Turnbull. (2017). The role of predictability in intonational variability. Language and Speech, 60 (1): 123–153. Paper (pdf).
  6. Kiwako Ito, Rory Turnbull, & Shari R Speer. (2017). Allophonic tunes of contrast: Lab and spontaneous speech lead to equivalent fixation responses in museum visitors. Laboratory Phonology, 8(1): 6, 1–29. Paper (pdf).
  7. Rory Turnbull, Adam J Royer, Kiwako Ito, & Shari R Speer. (2017). Prominence perception is dependent on phonology, semantics, and awareness of discourse. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 32(8): 1017–1033. Paper (pdf).
  8. Jeffrey J Holliday, Rory Turnbull, & Julien Eychenne. (2017). K-SPAN: A lexical database of Korean surface phonetic forms and phonological neighborhood density statistics. Behavior Research Methods, 49(5): 1939–1950. Paper (pdf).
  9. Rory Turnbull. (2017). The phonetics and phonology of lexical prosody in San Jerónimo Acazulco Otomi. Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 47(3): 251–282. Paper (pdf).

Proceedings and book chapters

  1. Richard Littauer, Rory Turnbull & Alexis Palmer. (2012). Visualising Typological Relationships: Plotting WALS with Heat Maps. Proceedings of the European Association of Computational Linguistics 2012 Workshop on the Visualization of Linguistic Patterns, p30–34. Paper (pdf).
  2. Rory Turnbull & Cynthia G Clopper. (2013). Effects of semantic predictability and dialect variation on vowel production in clear and plain lab speech. Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics (POMA), 19: 060116. Paper (pdf).
  3. Rory Turnbull, Adam J Royer, Kiwako Ito, & Shari R Speer. (2014). Prominence perception in and out of context. Proceedings of the 7th international conference on Speech Prosody, p1164–1168. Paper (pdf).
  4. Jeffrey J Holliday & Rory Turnbull. (2015). Effects of phonological neighborhood density on word production in Korean. Proceedings of the 18th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences. Paper (pdf).
  5. Rory Turnbull. (2015). Patterns of individual differences in reduction: Implications for listener-oriented theories. Proceedings of the 18th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences. Paper (pdf).
  6. Rachel Steindel Burdin, Rory Turnbull, & Cynthia G Clopper. (2015). Interactions among lexical and discourse characteristics in vowel production. Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics (POMA), 22, 060005. Paper (pdf).
  7. Magnus Pharao Hansen, Néstor Hernández-Green, Rory Turnbull, & Ditte Boeg Thomsen. (2016). Life histories, language attitutdes and linguistic variation: Navigating the micro-politics of language revitalization in an Otomí community in Mexico. In Pérez-Báez, G., Rogers, C., & Rosés Labrada, J. E. (eds.), Language Documentation and Revitalization: Latin American Contexts, pp215–246. Paper (pdf).
  8. Rory Turnbull & Sharon Peperkamp. (2017). What governs a language’s lexicon? Determining the organizing principles of phonological neighbourhood networks. In Cherifi, H., Gaito, G., Quattrociocchi, W., & Sala, A. (eds.), Proceedings of the 5th International Workshop on Complex Networks and their Applications, pp83-–94. Paper (pdf).
  9. Thomas Schatz, Rory Turnbull, Francis Bach, & Emmanuel Dupoux. (2017). A quantitative measure of the impact of coarticulation on phone discriminability. Proceedings of Interspeech 2017, pp3033–3037. Paper (pdf).
  10. Cynthia G Clopper & Rory Turnbull. (forthcoming). Exploring variation in phonetic reduction: Linguistic, social, and cognitive factors. In Cangemi, F., Clayards, M., Niebuhr, O., Schuppler, B., & Zellers, M. (eds.), Rethinking Reduction: Interdisciplinary perspectives on conditions, mechanisms, and domains for phonetic variation. Publisher’s webpage.


I welcome enquiries from prospective or current students who are interested in topics related to my research interests. I am teaching two classes this semester:

Ling 421: “Introduction to Phonological Analysis”

This course is an introduction to the principles and methods of phonological analysis. Common and less common phonological phenomena in the world’s spoken languages are introduced through hands-on experience in working with linguistic data. Major topics covered include phonological and phonetic representations, phonological features, syllable and word structure, and stress and tone. We also cover non-linear phonology and phonological interfaces.

Ling 750F: “Phonology deconstructed”

Through readings and discussions this seminar critically examines and reassesses foundational assumptions of phonology, such as phonemes, abstraction, and contrast. Exemplar theory and usage-based models are introduced as supplements or alternatives to traditional generative phonological theory, and we will cover the empirical evidence for and against these approaches. Finally, we consider how our understanding of phonology can be informed by insights from language development within the individual (L1 acquisition), between generations (historical change), and within the species (biological evolution).


You can email me at rory dot turnbull at hawaii dot edu.

My office is 559, Moore Hall. Office hours for Spring semester 2018 are Thursdays 10:30am-12:30pm. No appointment necessary, feel free drop by and say hello.