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This study investigates whether alternation learning is facilitated by a matching phonotactic generalization. In a series of artificial grammar learning experiments, English learners were trained on artificial languages evincing categorical vowel harmony alternations across morpheme boundaries. These languages differed in the degree of harmony within stems (disharmonic, semiharmonic, and harmonic), and thus the degree of phonotactic support for the alternation. Results indicate that alternation learning was best when supported by matching stem phonotactics (harmonic language; experiment 1). Learners, however, were reluctant to extend a learned phonotactic constraint to novel unseen alternations (experiments 2 and 3). Taken together, the results are consistent with the hypothesis that alternation learning is facilitated by a matching static phonotactic generalization, but that learners are conservative in positing alternations in the absence of overt evidence for them.
phonotactics, alternations, derived-environment effects, artificial grammar, phonological learning, vowel harmony