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Title:A Level Playing Field: Perceptibility and Inflection in English Compounds
Authors:Robert Kirchner, Elena Nicoladis
Abstract:To explain why English compounds generally avoid internal inflectional suffixation (e.g. key-chain rather than keys-chain), linguists have often invoked the Level Ordering Hypothesis (Siegel 1979), i.e. that particular types of morphology, in this case inflectional suffixation, are derivationally ordered after compounding. However, a broad range of counterexamples and conceptual objections to Level Ordering have emerged. We propose an alternative account, based on the observation that certain English inflectional suffixes are more perceptible than others (-ing > -s > -ed), and that these suffixes are less crucial to lexical access and recovery of meaning than corresponding root-final segments. This proposal was tested in perception and production experiments. In the perception experiment, compounds with a nonsense word as modifier (e.g. dacks van, dacked van) were auditorily presented to 20 native English speakers, who were asked to spell what they heard. The participants omitted significantly more -ed than -s or -ing. In the production experiment, we asked 22 native English speakers to read these compounds. The speakers dropped significantly more -ed than -s or -ing. Furthermore, they dropped more of these sounds when they were spelled as affixes than as part of the root (e.g. dacked van vs. dact van. These results suggest that English speakers' avoidance or inclusion of inflection in compounds is based not on Level Ordering, but on perceptibility as well as the status of the consonant as an affix. We further present a formal analysis capturing these factors in terms of Steriade's (1999) Licensing-by-Cue proposal.
Type:Paper/tech report
Article:Version 1