Speaker: Gaja Jarosz (UMass Amherst) Title: Sonority Sequencing in Polish: Interaction of Prior Bias and Experience Time: Friday, February 10th, 3:30-5:00 pm Place: 32-155 Abstract:
Recent work on phonological learning has questioned the traditional view that innate principles guide and constrain language development in children and explain universal properties cross-linguistically. In this talk I focus on a particular universal, the Sonority Sequencing Principle (SSP), which governs preferences among sequences of consonants syllable-initially. Experimental evidence indicates that English, Mandarin, and Korean speakers exhibit sensitivity to the SSP even for consonant sequences that never occur syllable-initially in those languages (such as [nb] vs. [bn] in English). There is disagreement regarding the implications of this finding. Berent et al. (2007) argue that these results can only be explained with reference to an innate principle; however, Daland et. al (2011) show that computational models capable of inferring statistical generalizations over sound classes can detect evidence for these preferences based on related patterns in the language input (and therefore no reference to innate principles is required). Building on these studies, I argue that English is the wrong test case: it does not differentiate predictions of these two hypotheses. I examine learning of syllable structure phonotactics in Polish, a language with very different sonority sequencing patterns from English. Polish provides a crucial test case because the lexical statistics contradict the SSP, at least in part. I review developmental evidence indicating that children acquiring Polish are nonetheless sensitive to the SSP, producing larger sonority rises more accurately in spontaneous production (Jarosz to appear). I then present results from two experiments investigating adult Polish native speakers’ phonotactic knowledge. The findings indicate that Polish native speakers’ phonotactic preferences are sensitive to the SSP and that this SSP sensitivity is not predicted by the computational models that succeeded for languages like English, Mandarin, and Korean. This suggests a crucial role of an inherent bias or a constraint on generalization from the input. At the same time, native speakers’ sonority-sequencing preferences are not entirely expected on the basis of SSP alone, suggesting an important role for experience as well. I discuss implications of these prior bias – experience interactions for modeling of phonological learning.