SRPP: The Phonotactic Knowledge of Mandarin Chinese

Shuxiao Gong (University of Kansas)
25 February 2022, 14h0015h30
Native speakers of a language have strong intuitions not only about what the existing words are in their language, but also about which novel forms are phonologically possible or impossible. It is assumed that these intuitions are guided by their phonotactic knowledge of the language. Many factors may play a role in this phonotactic knowledge. Apart from the lexical statistics of a language, grammatical phonotactic constraints can also influence this knowledge. First, using a non-word acceptability judgement experiment, I found that Mandarin native speakers show gradient acceptability among various types of missing syllables. Missing syllables that violate principled phonotactic constraints (in this case, the Obligatory Contour Principle) received lower ratings than those who do not, and this effect from phonotactic constraints is independent from lexical statistics. Second, in a lexical decision experiment, a more ‘online’ paradigm, I found that Mandarin speakers rejected the OCP-violating missing syllables faster than the non-violating ones. Results from these two experiments suggest that grammatical constraints are a part of Mandarin speakers’ phonotactic knowledge. Third, the observed phonotactic judgement was then modelled by a maximum entropy phonotactic grammar (Hayes & Wilson 2008). The well-formedness predictions offered by the output grammar are overall a good reflection of speakers’ acceptability ratings obtained experimentally, but there are also a number of systematic mismatches. These mismatches indicate that phonological learning is a biased process: some phonotactic patterns are easier to learn and thus have stronger effects on non-word judgement, whereas other patterns are harder to learn and have limited effects on non-word judgement. The biases introduced are (i) phonetic naturalness bias, (ii) allophony bias and (iii) suprasegmental bias. Adding these biases improved the performance of the phonotactic grammar. This indicates that phonotactic knowledge can largely be determined from the lexicon, but grammatical constraints and multiple biases also have effects.

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