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Pseudowords and the lexical system

  • Janet B. Pierrehumbert (University of Oxford)
Friday 10 May 2019
LUCL Colloquium 2018-2019
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


A mainstay of phonology is the ability of native speakers to  judge whether a novel form is a potential word of their language. This ability provides critical evidence that speakers have acquired implicit abstract knowledge of the lexical system in their language. The ability to encode, remember, and reproduce novel forms makes it possible to learn new words throughout their lives.

In this talk, I will present new results on people’s judgments of pseudowords, which are novel word forms that are at least minimally acceptable and that have no established meanings. I will talk about:
1) How acceptability varies as a function of length and phonotactic likelihood.
2) How a shallow (and often nonsensical) morphological parse affects acceptability.
3) How well people perform in making in two additional tasks: decomposing potentially complex pseudowords into their parts, and evaluating possible gendered associations of pseudowords.
I will make comparisons to results on real words.

The results provide strong evidence for shallow morphological parsing of novel word forms. They also indicate that novel words forms can carry social-indexical associations. However, these associations appear to be acquired indirectly through general similarities to known words, and not through indexicalization of morphemes per se. I conclude with some speculations about what the results mean for the long-term dynamics of the lexicon.

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