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 neighborhood 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 Wiener & 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 (open access).
  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).
  10. Rory Turnbull & Sharon Peperkamp. (2017). The asymmetric contribution of consonants and vowels to phonological similarity: Evidence from lexical priming. The Mental Lexicon, 12(3): 404–430. Paper (pdf).
  11. Rory Turnbull, Scott Seyfarth, Elizabeth Hume, & T Florian Jaeger. (2018). Nasal place assimilation trades off inferrability of both target and trigger words. Laboratory Phonology, 9(1), 15. Paper (open access).
  12. Cynthia G Clopper, Rory Turnbull, & Rachel Steindel Burdin. (2018). Assessing predictability effects in connected read speech. Linguistics Vanguard, 4(S2): 2017044. Paper (pdf).
  13. Rory Turnbull. (2018). Effects of lexical predictability on patterns of phoneme deletion/reduction in conversational speech in English and Japanese. Linguistics Vanguard, 4(S2): 20170033. Paper (pdf).
  14. Rory Turnbull. (2019). Listener-oriented phonetic reduction and theory of mind. Language, Cognition, and Neuroscience, 34(6): 747-768. Paper (pdf).
  15. Cynthia G Clopper, Rachel Steindel Burdin, & Rory Turnbull. (2019). Variation in /u/ fronting in the American Midwest. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 146(1): 233-244. Paper (pdf).

Proceedings, book chapters, and book reviews

  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 (open access).
  10. Bradley McDonnell & Rory Turnbull. (2018). Neural network modeling of prosodic prominence in Besemah (Malayic, Indonesia). Proceedings of Speech Prosody. Paper (open access).
  11. Cynthia G Clopper & Rory Turnbull. (2018). 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, pp25–72. Paper (pdf).
  12. Rory Turnbull. (2018). Review of Kennedy (2017), “Phonology: a coursebook” in Phonology, 35(3): 530–536. Review (pdf).
  13. Rory Turnbull & Sharon Peperkamp. (2019). Across-language priming in bilinguals: does English bet prime French bête? Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, pp1367–1371. Paper (pdf).


I welcome enquiries from prospective or current students who are interested in topics related to my research interests. I am teaching one class in Spring 2020 (click to see course description):
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.

Courses I have taught in the past include:

Ling 410: Articulatory Phonetics The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the types of speech sounds found in the world’s languages, and to give them the tools and skills to produce, recognize, transcribe, and analyze these speech sounds in settings of linguistic fieldwork, clinical practice, and/or language pedagogy. Specifically, students:

  • Learn about human vocal tract anatomy and how it functions in making speech sounds.
  • Receive training in describing, transcribing, recognizing and producing speech sounds.
  • Learn what phonemes, allophonesand natural classes of sounds are, and learn to observe basic phonological processes that govern allophonic alternations.
  • Gain knowledge about the acoustic correlates of different types of articulations.
Ling 431: Computational Modeling This course is an introduction to computational linguistics, broadly construed. We will cover the use of computers and computing to model and analyze language, which can be used to facilitate research in the social sciences (e.g. linguistics, applied linguistics, digital humanities, cognitive psychology, etc.). We take both a historical approach in understanding topics such as codes and cryptography, artificial intelligence, and cognitive science, and a practical approach in building and testing our own tools for language analysis. We’ll uncover the secrets behind personal assistants like Siri and Alexa, delve deep into neural networks, and find out why Google Translate is so bad (and yet so good)! No previous programming experience is necessary.
Ling 621: Phonology This is a graduate-level course in phonology. The goals of this course are to provide you with a common set of descriptive and theoretical tools for graduate-level work in phonology; to introduce you to contemporary phonological theories; and to build upon your critical thinking and reasoning skills in considering linguistic theory and analysis more broadly. Upon completion of this course, you should be able to follow a phonology presentation at a conference and ask intelligent questions afterwards; find problems and think of ways to search for solutions to these problems after reading a phonology paper; posit multiple analyses for a data set, relying on different pre-theoretic assumptions, and discuss intelligently the drawbacks and advantages of each approach; and think critically about evidence in linguistic theory and how to adjudicate between competing theoretical claims.
Ling 640F: Sound Change (Co-taught with Bob Blust.) This seminar explores issues relating to sound change from the perspective of historical phonology. Some issues that may be covered: Is sound change regular? To what extent is sound change phonetically motivated? To what extent is sound change phonologically motivated? Can we predict sound change? What linguistic factors may promote or inhibit a sound change? What extralinguistic factors may promote or inhibit a sound change? What is the locus of sound change? What is the role of language contact? How does the study of sound change inform phonological theory, and vice versa? What can we learn about sound change from laboratory experiments? Students will write a term paper, with several reports throughout the semester. No textbook is required. The prerequisite for this course is LING 421, or consent of the instructors.
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

My office is 559, Moore Hall. Office hours for Spring semester 2020 are Mondays 09h00–10h00 and Tuesdays 10h30–11h30. No appointment necessary, feel free drop by and say hello.