Nathan Sanders

Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Linguistics
Swarthmore College


office:Pearson 105
hours:Mon/Wed 3–5pm,
 and by appt.


Fall 2015 (current):
LING 040: Semantics
LING 100: Research Seminar

Spring 2016 (upcoming):
LING 045: Phonetics and Phonology
LING 052: Historical and Comparative Linguistics
LING 090: Advanced Research Methods in Linguistics

other courses:
LING 001: Introduction to Linguistics
LING 050: Syntax
LING 115: Linguistic Typology and Constructed Languages

Research Interests

I am interested in phonology, especially its interface with phonetics and morphology; sign language phonetics; derivational opacity; linguistic typology; ludlings (language games, like Pig Latin); constructed languages (like Esperanto and Klingon), especially their use as an educational tool; Polish and Slavic phonology; historical phonology; and mathematical and statistical models of linguistic phenomena.

I've most recently worked on statistical measures of vowel harmony, machine translation between Tuvan and English, and the phonetics of more than two dozen sign languages, including American Sign Language, Italian Sign Language, Sri Lankan Sign Language, and Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language.


SB in Mathematics, minor in Linguistics, MIT (1996)
MA and PhD in Linguistics, University of California, Santa Cruz (2000, 2003)

Selected Work

In preparation. A cross-linguistic preference for torso stability in the lexicon: Evidence from 24 sign languages. Article.

2017 (expected). A modular introduction to phonetics and phonology. Textbook contracted with Oxford University Press.

2016. (With Donna Jo Napoli) Reactive effort as a factor that shapes sign language lexicons. Forthcoming in Language. [ PDF (preprint) ]

2016. Constructed languages in the classroom. Forthcoming in Language.

2015. Active and reactive effort in sign language phonetics. Invited talk for the Tri-Lo Linguistics Lecture Series at Swarthmore College on joint work with Donna Jo Napoli. [ PDF (slides) ]

2014. Active and reactive effort in sign language phonetics. Invited talk given at the University of Georgia on joint work with Donna Jo Napoli. [ PDF (slides) ]

2014. Gradient (dis)harmony: Hidden harmony and anti-harmony. Poster presented at Phonology 2014 (Annual Meetings on Phonology), Massachusetts Institute of Technology. [ PDF (mini-paper) ] [ PDF (poster) ]

2014. (With Donna Jo Napoli and Rebecca Wright) On the linguistic effects of articulatory ease, with a focus on sign languages. Language 90(2):424-456. [ Project MUSE ]

2006/2014. OTtablx. LaTeX software package and documentation. v0.4. [ website ]

2012. (With K. David Harrison, Rachel Killackey, Kathryn Montemurro, and Peter Nilsson) The Tuvan Machine Translation Project. [ website ].

2012. (With K. David Harrison) Discovering new vowel harmony patterns using a pairwise statistical model. Poster presented at the 20th Manchester Phonology Meeting, University of Manchester.

2011. Some aspects of ease of articulation in American Sign Language. Invited talk given at Stony Brook University on joint work with Donna Jo Napoli and Rebecca Wright. [ PDF (handout) ]

2009. (With Jaye Padgett) Exploring the role of production in predicting vowel inventories. Talk given at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America. [ PDF (handout) ]

2009. (With Jacob Cerny and Christopher Paci) Towards a classification of the northern Berkshires dialect of American English. Poster presented at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America. [ PDF (poster) ]

2008. (With Jaye Padgett) Articulatory parameters in a dispersion-focalization model of vowel systems. Talk given at the UC Santa Cruz Linguistics Alumni Conference. [ PDF (handout) ]

2008. (With Jaye Padgett) Predicting vowel inventories from a dispersion-focalization model: New results. Papers from the 44th Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society. [ PDF ]

2006. Strong lexicon optimization. Talk given at Umass Phonology Group. [ PDF (handout) ]

2004. Opacity from contrast: Neutral segments in harmony systems. Talk given at the 12th Manchester Phonology Meeting, University of Manchester. [ PDF (handout) ]

2003. Opacity and sound change in the Polish lexicon. PhD dissertation, UCSC. [ abstract ] [ PDF (defense handout) ] [ PDF (dissertation) ]

2002. Dispersion in OT: Color contrast in Middle Polish nasal vowels. WCCFL 21 Proceedings. 415–428. [ PDF ]

2001. Preserving synchronic parallelism: Diachrony and opacity in Polish. CLS 37: The Main Session. Papers from the 37th Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society. 501–516. [ PDF ]

2000. Intra-representational correspondence and the realization of empty morphemes. Qualifying exam paper, UCSC. [ PDF ]

1999. Same-edge alignment with opposite-edge effects. Talk given at WCCFL 18. [ PDF (handout) ]

1999. Intra-representational correspondence and truncation. Paper given at Linguistics at Santa Cruz. [ PDF ]

1999. (With Kazutaka Kurisu) Infixal nominal reduplication in Mangarayi. Phonology at Santa Cruz 6. 47–56. [ PDF ]


  • games
  • TV shows
  • comic books
  • photography
  • geocaching
  • tennis
  • Other Links

  • my full CV (PDF)
  • OTtablx (beta version), LaTeX package for drawing OT tableaux
  • Language Log, a linguistics blog
  • Phonoloblog, a phonology blog
  • Jonathan Dowse's awesome clickable IPA chart
  • linguistics majors at Williams College