Phonetic naturalness in the reanalysis of Samoan thematic consonant alternations

Kuo, Jennifer. (in prep). "Phonetic naturalness in the reanalysis of Samoan thematic consonant alternations."


Abstract: Paradigms with conflicting data patterns can be difficult to learn, resulting in a type of language change called reanalysis. Existing models of morphophonology predict reanalysis to occur in a way that matches frequency distributions within the paradigm. Using evidence from Samoan, this paper argues that instead, reanalysis is sensitive to both frequency and the reduction of markedness. More concretely, I find that reanalysis of Samoan thematic consonants is generally towards the historically more frequent alternants (in line with a frequency-matching approach), but is also modulated by OCP-place effects. These results are confirmed in an iterated learning model that is based in MaxEnt (Goldwater and Johnson, 2003). Additionally, I propose that markedness effects must be i) already active in stem phonotactics (active markedness restriction), and ii) phonetically motivated (phonetic naturalness restriction). The Samoan data is compatible with these restrictions; OCP-place is active in Samoan stem phonotactics, supporting the active markedness restriction. Additionally, in a study where phonetic similarity is measured as the spectral distance between two phones, I find that similarity of consonants is closely correlated with the strength of OCP-place effects in Samoan; this suggests that OCP-place is rooted in phonetic similarity avoidance, supporting the phonetic naturalness restriction.