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Is phonological consonant epenthesis possible? A series of artificial grammar learning experiments

  • Rebecca L. Morley (a1)
Abstract

Consonant epenthesis is typically assumed to be part of the basic repertoire of phonological grammars. This implies that there exists some set of linguistic data for which epenthesis is the best analysis. However, a series of artificial grammar learning experiments found no evidence that learners ever selected an epenthesis analysis. Instead, phonetic and morphological biases were revealed, along with individual variation in how learners generalised and regularised their input. These results, in combination with previous work, suggest that synchronic consonant epenthesis may only emerge very rarely, as a result of a gradual accumulation of changes over time. It is argued that stored stem–allomorph pairs should be adopted as the null hypothesis in cases of potential epenthesis, and that a universal criterion is needed for rejecting this hypothesis. Such a criterion requires a formal theory of exceptions, a necessity for falsifiability in phonological theory.

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This work was supported by the Targeted Investment in Excellence from the OSU College of Humanities. I would like to thank MarDez Desmond, Christina Heaton, Lark Hovey, Dahee Kim, Karen Kuhn, Sara Pennington and others for their work in the lab. Special thanks to Emily Clem for her assistance in coding and analysing the data, as well as thinking about the results. Thanks also to Björn Köhnlein for his advice, and the ‘Phonies’ discussion group at the Ohio State University for input on earlier versions of this work. I would also like to thank Peter Staroverov, the anonymous reviewers and the associate editor at Phonology for their substantial contributions in making this a better paper.

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