Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences

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In an artificial language-learning task, two groups of English and French participants learned one of two language rules: 1) stress the first heavy (CVC) syllable, else the first syllable, or, 2) stress the first light (CV) syllable, else the first syllable. French and English participants were chosen to compare learning outcomes by speakers of different native stress systems, fixed and variable. Participants were trained on the target language by listening to a set of nonsense familiarization words exemplifying the stress rule. This was followed by a forced-choice task to choose the correct version of the words they had just learned. Following the training procedure, participants were tested on novel words with the same stress pattern to which they were familiarized. The result of the novel word testing was that the natural rule with stress on heavy syllables was learned significantly better than the unnatural, stress light syllables, rule. To account for the learnability of both the natural and the unnatural rules, I argue for the interaction of a general cognitive mechanism that facilitates learning in general and a domain-specific language mechanism that can access universal phonological principles to aid in learning a natural language rule.


Post-print version of article published in Open Linguistics 2016; 2: 105–13.

DOI 10.1515/opli-2016-000