Nonword Learning Project

Date: 14/11/2022

Rory Turnbull gave us a talk on his research on what influences the phonological structure of the words in a language. 

The train of thoughts:

The talk started with narrowing down the research questions: from the big question of why languages are the way they are to specific questions of what influences language structure and makes languages have the words that they have and not other words. His current research is on: what influences the phonological structure of the words in a language? While the typical answer to the question is phonotactics, his response is that ‘some’ functional pressures may also affect the phonological structure. 

Prior work:

Rory’s prior work suggests that natural languages have unexpectedly smooth phonological networks where each word is a nod and a link exists between two words if they are phonological neighbours (only differ by the deletion, insertion, or substitution of a single phoneme). It means that some words are alone in the network while some have loads of neighbours. Based on previous findings, he proposed: these ‘extreme’ words (unusually clumpy or sparse in the lexicon) are harder to learn and harder to retain than non-extreme words.

Pilot planning:

A pilot is in the plan which aims to test the nonwords learning of native British English participants. At the end of this session, our group provided feedback on the experimental design and recommendations on literature and related topics.

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