Conspiring to Mean: Experimental and Computational Evidence for a Usage-Based Harmonic Approach to Morphophonology


This article reports on an experiment with miniature artificial languages that provides support for a synthesis of ideas from USAGE-BASED PHONOLOGY (Bybee 1985, 2001, Nesset 2008) and HARMONIC GRAMMAR (Legendre et al. 1990, Smolensky & Legendre 2006). All miniature artificial languages presented to subjects feature velar palatalization (ktſ) before a plural suffix, -i. I show that (i) examples of -i simply attaching to a [tſ]-final stem help palatalization (supporting ttſi over tti and ptſi over ppi), a finding that provides specific support for product-oriented schemas like 'plurals should end in [tſi]'; (ii) learners tend to perseverate on the form they know, leveling stem changes, which provides support for paradigm-uniformity constraints in favor of retaining gestures composing the known form, for example, 'keep labiality'; and (iii) the same plural schema helps untrained singular-plural mappings more than it helps trained ones. This result is accounted for by proposing that schemas and paradigm-uniformity constraints clamor for candidate plural forms that obey them. Given that competition is between candidate outputs, the same schema provides more help to candidates that violate strong paradigm-uniformity constraints and are therefore weak relative to competitor candidates. A computational model of schema extraction is proposed.