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Explaining sonority projection effects*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 July 2011

Robert Daland
University of California, Los Angeles
Bruce Hayes
University of California, Los Angeles
James White
University of California, Los Angeles
Marc Garellek
University of California, Los Angeles
Andrea Davis
University of Arizona
Ingrid Norrmann
University of California, Los Angeles


The term sonority projection refers to behavioural distinctions speakers make between unattested phonological sequences on the basis of sonority. For example, among onset clusters, the well-formedness relation [bn]>[lb] is observed in speech perception, speech production and non-word acceptability (Davidson 2006, 2007, Berent et al.2007, Albright, ms). We begin by replicating the sonority projection effects in a non-word acceptability study. Then we evaluate the extent to which sonority projection is predicted by existing computational models of phonotactics (Coleman & Pierrehumbert 1997, Hayes & Wilson 2008, inter alia). We show that a model based only on lexical statistics can explain sonority projection in English without a pre-existing sonority sequencing principle. To do this, a model must possess (i) a featural system supporting sonority-based generalisations, and (ii) a context representation including syllabification or equivalent information.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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