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Sonority projection effect in French: A signal detection theory approach

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 June 2021

Anahita Basirat*
Université de Lille, CNRS, UMR 9193 - SCALab, France
Cédric Patin
Université de Lille, CNRS, UMR 8163, STL, France
Jérémie Jozefowiez
Université de Lille, CNRS, UMR 9193 - SCALab, France


Focusing on the Sonority Sequencing Principle (SSP), we investigated the extent to which adult native speakers of French are sensitive to sonority-related constraints compared to lexical attestedness. In a non-word acceptability task, participants were asked to rate the acceptability of three types of non-words using a 6-point scale: non-words with attested sonority rising onset, non-words with unattested sonority rising onset, and non-words with unattested sonority falling onset. Data analysis was done using the signal detection theory approach to measure sensitivity of participants to lexical attestedness and to phonological well-formedness (i.e., respecting or violating the SSP). The results showed that speakers distinguished well-formed and ill-formed forms even when lexical attestedness was controlled for. This is consistent with previous findings on sonority projection effects. Participants were more sensitive to lexical attestedness than phonological well-formedness. Future research using computational models should investigate mechanisms that could account for these findings, namely whether a similar result would be obtained without including any assumption about the SSP in these models.

Copyright © Canadian Linguistic Association/Association canadienne de linguistique, 2021

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We thank the participants in this study. We are grateful to Marine Guiborel, Roxane Kamphuis, Laurent Ott, and Laetitia Zmuda for their help in preparing the stimuli and/or collecting data.


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