Defying the Stimulus: Acquisition of Complex Onsets in Polish

Jarosz, Gaja. 2017. Defying the Stimulus: Acquisition of Complex Onsets in Polish. In Phonology 34(2). 269-298.


Behavioural findings indicate that English, Mandarin, and Korean speakers exhibit gradient sonority sequencing preferences among unattested initial clusters (Davidson 2006; Berent et al. 2007, 2008; Daland et al. 2011; Ren et al. 2010). While some have argued these results support an innate principle, recent modelling studies have questioned this conclusion, showing that computational models capable of inducing generalisations using abstract phonological features can detect these preferences from lexical statistics in these languages (Daland et al. 2011, Hayes 2011). This paper presents a computational analysis of the development of initial clusters in Polish, which arguably presents a stronger test of these models. We show that 1) the statistics of Polish contradict the Sonority Sequencing Principle (SSP), favouring sonority plateaus, 2) models that succeeded in the other languages do not predict SSP preferences for Polish, and 3) children nonetheless exhibit sensitivity to the SSP, favouring onset clusters with larger sonority rises.

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