The Effect of Sonority on Word Segmentation: Evidence for the Use of a Phonological Universal
Article first published online: 3 NOV 2011
Copyright © 2011 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Volume 36, Issue 4, pages 655–673, May/June 2012
How to Cite
Ettlinger, M., Finn, A. S. and Hudson Kam, C. L. (2012), The Effect of Sonority on Word Segmentation: Evidence for the Use of a Phonological Universal. Cognitive Science, 36: 655–673. doi: 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2011.01211.x
- Issue published online: 4 MAY 2012
- Article first published online: 3 NOV 2011
- Received 22 January 2011; received in revised form 3 August 2011; accepted 14 August 2011
- Word segmentation;
- Language universals;
- Sonority sequencing principle
It has been well documented how language-specific cues may be used for word segmentation. Here, we investigate what role a language-independent phonological universal, the sonority sequencing principle (SSP), may also play. Participants were presented with an unsegmented speech stream with non-English word onsets that juxtaposed adherence to the SSP with transitional probabilities. Participants favored using the SSP in assessing word-hood, suggesting that the SSP represents a potentially powerful cue for word segmentation. To ensure the SSP influenced the segmentation process (i.e., during learning), we presented two additional groups of participants with either (a) no exposure to the stimuli prior to testing or (b) the same stimuli with pauses marking word breaks. The SSP did not influence test performance in either case, suggesting that the SSP is important for word segmentation during the learning process itself. Moreover, the fact that SSP-independent segmentation of the stimulus occurred (in the latter control condition) suggests that universals are best understood as biases rather than immutable constraints on learning.