The Role of Natural Class Features in the Acquisition of Phonotactic Regularities
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Previous research has shown that phonotactic regularities can be acquired through recent production or auditory experience (e.g., Dell et al., Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 26(6), 1355-1367, 2000; Onishi et al., Cognition, 83(1), B13-B23, 2002). However, little is known about the role of phonological natural classes in this learning process. This study addressed this question by investigating the acquisition of a contingency relationship between onsets and medial glides by Mandarin speakers. The experiments involved the manipulation of three types of phonotactic regularities. In the Laryngeal version, onsets that preceded the same glide shared a voicing feature. In the Place version, onsets that preceded same glide shared a place feature. In the Neither version, onsets associated with the same glide shared neither a voicing feature nor a place feature. Results showed the Place version and the Laryngeal version were more easily acquired than the Neither version in terms of the amount of exposure needed to acquire the experimentally manipulated phonotactic schema and the sustainability of the acquired schema. The results suggest that the statistical learning mechanism that guides our processing of speech input prefers phonological regularities that follow certain natural class features. This preference may account for the way natural languages are structured phonologically.
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