Crosslinguistic evidence for a strong statistical universal: Phonological neutralization targets word-ends over beginnings

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Abstract

We report a statistical test of a long-standing hypothesis in the literature: that phonological neutralization rules are more common at the ends of lexical domains than the beginnings (Houlihan 1975 et seq.). We collected descriptive grammars for an areally and genetically diverse set of fifty languages, identified all active phonological rules that target the edge of a lexical domain (root, stem, word, phrase, or utterance), and further coded each rule for whether it was phonemically neutralizing, that is, able to create surface homophony. We find that such neutralizing rules are strongly, significantly less common at the beginnings of lexical domains relative to ends, and that this pattern is strikingly consistent across all languages within the data set. We show that this pattern is not an artifact of a tendency for syllable codas to be a target for phonological neutralization, nor is it associated with a suffixing or prefixing preference. Consistent with previous accounts, we argue that this pattern may ultimately be based in the greater average information content of phonological categories early in the word, which itself is a consequence of incremental processing in lexical access.*.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e428-e446
JournalLanguage
Volume95
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2019

Keywords

  • Lexical processing
  • Neutralization
  • Phonology
  • Typology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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