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Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 31, Issue 1, pp 47–89 | Cite as

Frequency biases in phonological variation

  • Andries W. CoetzeeEmail author
  • Shigeto Kawahara
Article

Abstract

In the past two decades, variation has received a lot of attention in mainstream generative phonology, and several different models have been developed to account for variable phonological phenomena. However, all existing generative models of phonological variation account for the overall rate at which some process applies in a corpus, and therefore implicitly assume that all words are affected equally by a variable process. In this paper, we show that this is not the case. Many variable phenomena are more likely to apply to frequent than to infrequent words. A model that accounts perfectly for the overall rate of application of some variable process therefore does not necessarily account very well for the actual application of the process to individual words. We illustrate this with two examples, English t/d-deletion and Japanese geminate devoicing. We then augment one existing generative model (noisy Harmonic Grammar) to incorporate the contribution of usage frequency to the application of variable processes. In this model, the influence of frequency is incorporated by scaling the weights of faithfulness constraints up or down for words of different frequencies. This augmented model accounts significantly better for variation than existing generative models.

Keywords

Variation Usage frequency Harmonic Grammar t/d-deletion Japanese geminate devoicing 

Notes

Acknowledgements

The ideas expressed in this paper were presented in various forms at NAPhC 5, NELS 38, NELS 41, the University of Michigan, the University of Massachusetts, Michigan State University, Stanford University, and SUNY Stony Brook. The feedback and reaction of the audiences at these events contributed significantly to the development of our thoughts. This work has also been discussed in detail with many individuals, and we acknowledge our gratitude for their contribution. This list includes Joe Pater, John McCarthy, John Kingston, Anne-Michelle Tessier, Pam Beddor, San Duanmu, Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero, William Labov, Paul Smolensky, Matt Goldrick, Colin Wilson, Kevin McGowan, and Susan Lin. We also acknowledge the help of Amelia Compton in running many of the Praat simulations in this paper. The three reviewers and the associate editor similarly helped us to improve the paper and to express our ideas more clearly. As always, any remaining errors and shortcomings are our own.

Supplementary material

11049_2012_9179_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (97 kb)
Some Explanatory Notes about the files accompanying this paper (PDF 97 kB)
11049_2012_9179_MOESM2_ESM.collection (1 kb)
Buckeye.Collection (COLLECTION 1 kB)
11049_2012_9179_MOESM3_ESM.csv (1 kb)
Japanese-data.csv (CSV 1 kB)
11049_2012_9179_MOESM4_ESM.collection (1 kb)
Japanese-Exponential.Collection (COLLECTION 1 kB)
11049_2012_9179_MOESM5_ESM.collection (1 kb)
Japanese-Linear.Collection (COLLECTION 1 kB)
11049_2012_9179_MOESM6_ESM.collection (1 kb)
Japanese-Sigmoid.Collection (COLLECTION 1 kB)
11049_2012_9179_MOESM7_ESM.csv (618 kb)
t-d-corpus.csv (CSV 618 kB)

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA

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