The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Phonology Circle 4/6 - Diana Apoussidou

This week’s installment of Phonology Circle features a talk by Diana Apoussidou.

Speaker: Diana Apoussidou (UMass Amhert/University of Amsterdam)
Title: Modeling the acquisition of French liaison using allomorphy
Time: 4/6 5pm
Location: 32-D831

As language acquisition research shows (e.g. Chevrot et al. 2008), children learning French are creative when segmenting nouns starting with a vowel. Words like arbre ‘tree’ are in adult speech rarely produced in isolation and undergo a liaison with the final consonant of the preceding word, e.g. un arbre is pronounced as oe.narbr, or des arbre as de.zarbr. Children until the age of 4;6 therefore produce errors such as narbr or zarbr. Chevrot et al. (2008) analyze these errors in terms of templates that the children use in the course of development. The templates are made up of un+/Nword2/ or deux+/Zword2/ etc., where the extra consonant in front of a word depends on the preceding word. I propose instead that the errors produced by the children can be analyzed in terms of allomorphy: children hypothesize different underlying representations for words (e.g. literally /arbr/, /narbr/ and /zarbr/ for ‘tree’) depending on what they can observe. This can be modeled with an optimization-based grammar where different underlying forms of a word are represented by lexical constraints. The results show that even with a resulting ‘correct’ lexicon (e.g. vowel-initial /arbr/ as underlying representation of ‘tree’), interference with the grammar can lead to the use of allomorphs in production (e.g. /narbr/ in combination with un, yielding /oe#narbr/ instead of /oen#arbre).