The Productive Status of Laurentian French Liaison: Variation across Words and Grammar


  • Anne-Michelle Tessier University of British Columbia
  • Karen Jesney Carleton University
  • Kaili Vesik University of British Columbia
  • Roger Lo University of British Columbia
  • Marie-Eve Bouchard University of British Columbia



French, liaison, exceptionality, nonce word production, lexically-specific phonology


There are competing views in contemporary phonological theory about how to best represent processes that are pervasive, frequent, and phonologically motivated, yet still lexically sensitive. To what extent can – or should – a process that applies idiosyncratically to different morphemes, words, and even phrases, be represented in a way that allows it to generalize to novel forms? We examine this question by looking at prenominal liaison as it is used in contemporary Laurentian French, spoken in Canada. We present the results of an online production study that compares application of liaison in real vs. nonce nouns, and that considers the effect of nonce nouns’ phonological properties and morphosyntactic context on the process. We interpret our results as evidence that liaison behaviour is driven jointly by lexical representations and an abstract grammar, with properties of the real-word lexicon affecting liaison rates in nonce words. We further show that there is considerable variation in the population in the extent to which speakers produce liaison with real h-aspiré words, but that all speakers nonetheless share an understanding of what types of words are more vs. less likely to undergo liaison.