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Analytic bias and phonological typology*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 June 2008

Elliott Moreton
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


Two factors have been proposed as the main determinants of phonological typology: channel bias, phonetically systematic errors in transmission, and analytic bias, cognitive predispositions making learners more receptive to some patterns than others. Much of typology can be explained equally well by either factor, making them hard to distinguish empirically. This study presents evidence that analytic bias is strong enough to create typological asymmetries in a case where channel bias is controlled. I show that (i) phonological dependencies between the height of two vowels are typologically more common than dependencies between vowel height and consonant voicing, (ii) the phonetic precursors of the height-height and height-voice patterns are equally robust and (iii) in two experiments, English speakers learned a height-height pattern and a voice-voice pattern better than a height-voice pattern. I conclude that both factors contribute to typology, and discuss hypotheses about their interaction.

Copyright © 2008 Cambridge University Press

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