Learning covert phonological interaction: An analysis of the problem posed by the interaction of stress and epenthesis

John Alderete, Bruce Tesar

Abstract:

The purpose of this report is to contribute to formal learning theory in Optimality Theory by providing an analysis of the problem posed by covert phonological interaction. Building on standard theories of syllable structure and metrical stress, we analyze a typological system in which regular processes of epenthesis interact in non-transparent ways with metrical stress. The nature of this interaction, which implies several complex learning decisions, is shown to support the following conclusions relevant to general mechanisms of language learning:

1. A process of lexical acquisition in which surface phonological structure is directly incorporated into the lexicon (sometimes called ‘the identity map’) leads to a state in which the learner is committed to a grammar that over-generates.

2. Acquisition of some aspects of a lexical representation (LR) may take place in the absence of morpho-phonemic alternations; acquisition of LRs that are not identical to the surface form is necessary to solve the over-generation problem.

3. Over-generation problems may arise in learning from constraint interactions that are distinct from those that exist among faithfulness constraints that stand in a  special/general relation.

Keywords: opacity, stress, epenthesis, computational learning, Optimality Theory

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Full citation: Alderete, John and Bruce Tesar. 2002. Learning covert phonological interaction: An analysis of the problem posed by the interaction of stress and epenthesis. Report no. RuCCS-TR-72, Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science.