Naturalness and Learnability
An ongoing debate in phonological research concerns the role of a bias toward phonetically natural patterns in phonological learning. The presence of a naturalness bias among learners makes the prediction that phonetically marked patterns are more likely to undergo sound change than unmarked patterns.
To address the role of naturalness in phonological learning, Youngah Do, Elizabeth Zsiga, and I conducted an artificial language learning experiment to investigate whether adult learners are able to learn phonetically unnatural phonological alternations, whether they are able to extend the alternation to novel forms, and the amount of exposure to an unnatural pattern that is needed to make such generalizations. The experiment was designed to simulate a language contact situation in which speakers of Sebirwa appear to have borrowed a phonetically unnatural pattern from a neighboring language, Setswana.
Do, Youngah; Elizabeth Zsiga; and Jonathan Havenhill. 2016. Frequency and naturalness in implicit phonological learning. Paper presented at the 90th annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, Washington, DC. [PDF]