08 March 2015

Gaja Jarosz visits the department

Gaja Jarosz will be visiting the department this Thursday and Friday. She’ll give the department colloquium (title and abstract below) on Friday at 3:30 in ILC N400.

Sonority Sequencing Effects in Polish: Defying the Stimulus?

The Sonority Sequencing Principle (SSP: Steriade 1982; Selkirk 1984; Clements 1988, 1992) states that syllables with a sonority rise in the transition from the onset to the nucleus are preferred cross-linguistically. Experimental evidence indicates that English speakers exhibit gradient sensitivity to the SSP for onset clusters that are not attested in English (Davidson 2006, 2007; Berent et al. 2007, 2009; Daland et al. 2011). Berent et al. (2007, 2009) show that several lexical statistics of English fail to predict these preferences and suggest that the principle may therefore be innate. However, Daland et al. (2011) show that computational models with the ability to form abstract generalizations on the basis of phonological features and phonological context can detect SSP preferences on the basis of English lexical statistics. In this talk, I explore this controversy using computational and developmental approaches in a language (Polish) with very different sonority sequencing patterns from English. Using computational modeling, I show that a) the lexical statistics of Polish contradict the SSP, b) computational models applied to input estimated from Polish child-directed speech predict reverse-SSP preferences, and c) computational models that encode the SSP straightforwardly predict earlier acquisition of clusters with higher sonority rises. Thus, Polish provides a rare example where predictions of input-based models, even phonologically sophisticated ones, diverge dramatically from predictions expected on the basis of universal principles. I test these predictions by examining the acquisition of onset clusters in Polish. The data come from the spontaneous speech of four typically-developing, monolingual, Polish children aged 1;7-2;6 in the Weist-Jarosz Corpus (Weist and Witkowska-Stadnik 1986; Weist et al. 1984; Jarosz 2010; Jarosz et al. submitted). In conflict with the input-based predictions, the acquisition analyses indicate that development is significantly and gradiently sensitive to the SSP. I discuss the implications for phonological theory.