Complexity and naturalness biases in phonotactics: Hayes and White (2013) revisited

Brandon Prickett


Hayes and White (2013) found that English speakers rate words that violate natural phonotactic constraints as worse than words that violate unnatural ones. Their “natural” constraints both enforced typologically common restrictions and were phonetically grounded, while their unnatural constraints met neither criterion. They used this experimental finding as evidence for a learning bias in favor of natural constraints. The strength of this conclusion was weakened by the presence of a confound: the unnatural constraints were also more structurally complex. This paper presents the results from an experiment that replicated Hayes and White, but added complexity as a variable of interest. The results suggest that naturalness and complexity both affect phonological acquisition: supporting the conclusions of Hayes and White (2013), but differing from the findings of most artificial language learning studies.


phonology; naturalness; complexity; biases; experimental; surfeit

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