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LINGUIST List 19.3493

Sun Nov 16 2008

Diss: Ling Theories/Phonology/Psycholing: Zaba: 'Relative Frequency...'

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        1.    Aleksandra Zaba, Relative Frequency of Patterns and Learnability: The case of phonological harmony

Message 1: Relative Frequency of Patterns and Learnability: The case of phonological harmony
Date: 14-Nov-2008
From: Aleksandra Zaba <aleksandra.zabauni-hamburg.de>
Subject: Relative Frequency of Patterns and Learnability: The case of phonological harmony
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Institution: University of Utah
Program: Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2008

Author: Aleksandra Zaba

Dissertation Title: Relative Frequency of Patterns and Learnability: The case
of phonological harmony

Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories

Dissertation Director(s):
Rachel Hayes-Harb
Anne Cook
David Iannucci
Bruce L. Smith
Randall Eggert

Dissertation Abstract:

The cross-linguistic frequency of phonological patterns has been commonly linked
to their learnability (e.g., Chomsky & Halle (1968); Prince & Smolensky (2003);
Steriade (2001)). Experimental work investigating the relation between frequency
and learnability has provided contradictory results. For example, Wilson (2003)
used an artificial language learning paradigm in a listening experiment, and
found that the attested patterns of nasal consonant harmony (triggered by nasal
consonants) and nasal consonant disharmony are more learnable by adults than
unattested arbitrary patterns. Koo & Cole (2006) used a similar method and found
that the more frequently attested pattern of back vowel harmony is not more
learnable than the less frequent liquid harmony. My dissertation followed up on
studies such as Wilson (2003) and Koo & Cole (2006) to contribute to the
question whether frequency and learnability are related. The patterns in focus
in my dissertation were types of phonological harmony (different from those in
previous experiments) and directionality of harmony.

Experiment 1 of my dissertation tested whether the relative cross-linguistic
frequency scale, back vowel harmony>>nasal consonant harmony>>labial consonant
harmony (unattested), is related to the corresponding learnability scale.
Participants were trained on non-words containing one of the three harmony types
and subsequently tested on their learning of the patterns. Results showed that
none of the three training conditions learned better than the others. To exclude
the possibility that these results were due to individual differences in
attention or learning ability, analyses were repeated with participants in each
condition whose d-prime scores were within 1 SD from the mean, and with
participants whose d-prime scores exceeded 0. Both measures did not provide any
support for the relation between frequency and learnability.

Experiment 2 used the same methodology as Experiment 1 to detect whether the
relative frequency scale, progressive nasal consonant harmony (P)>>regressive
nasal consonant harmony (R), is related to the same learnability scale. Results
with all partcipants included showed that no harmony condition was learned
better than the other. When the same cutoff procedures as in Experiment 1 were
used, the learning scale was P>>R.

Several possible explanations exist for why only Experiment 2 revealed a
relation between frequency and learnability. Among these explanations is that
frequency and learnability may be related only in certain patterns. In other
patterns, other factors may contribute to frequency. For example, some patterns,
such as back vowel harmony, may be more frequent than other patterns since they
(frequent patterns) contribute to ease of speech articulation (Oh & Cole 2005).

Among the implications for theory is that the universally preferred ranking of
INTEGRITY constraints INTEGRITY (F) Affix>> INTEGRITY (F) Root suggested by
Kraemer (2003) is supported. INTEGRITY (F) constraints are constraints against
prominence augmentation. For example, INTEGRITY (F) Affix demands that 'no
feature of an affix in an input has multiple correspondents in the output'
(Kraemer 2003:94). INTEGRITY (F) Root demands that 'no feature of a root in an
input has multiple correspondents in the output' (Kraemer 2003:94). The ranking
of the constraint INTEGRITY (F) Affix above INTEGRITY (F) Root thus describes a
bias toward stem-outward harmony, which was supported in Experiment 2 of my
dissertation (where progressive nasal consonant harmony (stem-outward) was more
learnable than regressive nasal consonant harmony (suffix-triggered)) for nasal
consonant harmony as attested in the Bantu languages.
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