Production and Substantive Bias in Phonological Learning

Youngah Do, Jonathan Havenhill


The role of inductive biases has been actively examined in work on phonological learning. While previous studies systematically supported a structural bias hypothesis, i.e., patterns with simpler phonological featural descriptions are easier to learn, the results have been mixed for a substantive bias hypothesis, i.e., phonetically motivated patterns are easier to learn. This study explores an explanation for the uncertain status of substantive bias in phonological learning. Among the aspects of phonetic substance, we focus on articulatory factors. We hypothesize that practice producing phonological patterns makes salient to learners the articulatory factors underlying articulatorily (un-)grounded patterns. An artificial language learning experiment was conducted to test the learning of postnasal (de)voicing, a pattern which is primarily grounded on articulatory components. We examine the role of production in the learning of articulatorily grounded (postnasal voicing) vs. ungrounded patterns (postnasal devoicing), by comparing the outcomes of perception-only vs. perception-with-production learning contexts, both in categorical and variable pattern learning conditions. The results show evidence for a production effect, but it was restricted to certain contexts, namely those involving a higher level of uncertainty and for languages exhibiting dominant natural patterns. We discuss the implications of our findings for phonological learning and language change.


Production; Learning biases; Artificial language learning; Postnasal voicing

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