LLF – Bât. ODG – 5e étage – Salle du conseil (533)
Alexander Martin (Edinburgh)
Phonological learning is biased by phonetic substance
Phonological rules tend to be phonetically ‘natural’: they reflect constraints on speech production and perception. Substance-based phonological theories predict that a preference for phonetically natural rules is encoded in synchronic grammars and translates into learning biases. I will present data from two studies exploring the learning of vowel harmony compared to vowel disharmony. While these two patterns are formally similar, their typological distributions and phonetic grounding are strikingly different, with vowel disharmony being fleetingly rare and phonetically unmotivated. Learners in an artificial language learning task showed better learning of the typologically frequent, phonetically grounded pattern than of the rare, unnatural one, and readily extrapolated it to cases of multiple affixation. I will argue that this is strong evidence for phonetically-biased learning (which does not come from native language experience), which in turn may explain part of the typological asymmetry between natural and unnatural rules.