This study addresses two competing explanations for why some phonological patterns are more common than others: analytic bias (cognitive predispositions, such as Universal Grammar, which make some patterns harder to learn than others) versus channel bias (systematic phonetic errors in the transmission of individual utterances which, by corrupting the input received by the learner, favor innovation of some patterns and extinction of others). These explanations are hard to distinguish because they apply equally well to much typological data. Here, evidence is presented to show that each factor can shape typology in ways not explainable by the other: (1) phonological patterns relating vowel height to vowel height (e.g., height harmony) are commoner than patterns relating height to consonant voicing, (2) the phonetic precursor of height-height patterns is no larger than that of height-voice patterns, and (3) a height-height pattern was learned better than a height-voice pattern in a lab experiment. (3), together with (2), suggests that analytic bias explains (1) better than channel bias. Finally, in another experiment, a long-distance voicing harmony pattern—rare in nature—was also learned better than a height-voice pattern. This suggests that the rarity of voice harmony patterns is due to lack of a precursor, rather than to analytic bias.
Proceedings of the 26th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics
edited by Charles B. Chang and Hannah J. Haynie
Table of contents