Nathan Sanders

Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Linguistics
Haverford College, with joint appointments at Bryn Mawr College and Swarthmore College


office:209 Stokes Hall
phone: 610-896-1703 (shared)

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; mathematical and statistical models of linguistic phenomena; and in general, the physical, biological, and cognitive factors that shape language.

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.


Fall 2016:
LING H113: Introduction to Syntax (Haverford)
LING H101B: Introduction to Linguistics (Bryn Mawr)

Spring 2017:
LING H115: Phonetics and Phonology (Haverford)
TBD (Swarthmore)

other courses taught:
semantics, historical linguistics, linguistic typology, research methods


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

Recent Work

Sanders, Nathan, and Donna Jo Napoli. In preparation. A cross-linguistic preference for torso stability in the lexicon: Evidence from 24 sign languages. Article.

Sanders, Nathan. 2017 (expected). A modular introduction to phonetics and phonology [tentative title]. Textbook contracted with Oxford University Press.

Sanders, Nathan. 2017. Constructed languages as a bridge to interdisciplinary teaching. Presentation in the Teaching Linguistics with Invented Languages organized session. The 91st Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America.

Sanders, Nathan. 2016. Constructed languages in the classroom. Language 92(3) (forthcoming). [ PDF (preprint) ]

Sanders, Nathan, and Donna Jo Napoli. 2016. Reactive effort as a factor that shapes sign language lexicons. Language 92(2). 275–297. [ Project MUSE ]

Sanders, Nathan. 2016. nslxIPA. Unicode IPA keyboard layout and documentation. v1.0. [ website ]

Sanders, Nathan. 2015. Active and reactive effort in sign language phonetics. Invited talk for the Tri-Lo Linguistics Lecture Series at Swarthmore College. [ PDF (slides) ]

Sanders, Nathan. 2014. Active and reactive effort in sign language phonetics. Invited talk given at the University of Georgia. [superseded by Sanders 2015]

Sanders, Nathan. 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) ]

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

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

Older Work

Harrison, K. David, Nathan Sanders, Rachel Killackey, Kathryn Montemurro, and Peter Nilsson. 2012. The Tuvan Machine Translation Project.

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

Sanders, Nathan. 2011. Some aspects of ease of articulation in American Sign Language. Invited talk given at Stony Brook University. [ PDF (handout) ]

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

Cerny, Jacob, Christopher Paci, and Nathan Sanders. 2009. 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) ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanders, Nathan. 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 ]

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

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

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

Kurisu, Kazutaka, and Nathan Sanders. 1999. Infixal nominal reduplication in Mangarayi. Phonology at Santa Cruz 6. 47–56. [ PDF ]


  • games
  • TV shows
  • photography
  • Other Links

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