New phonotactic constraints learned implicitly by producing syllable strings generalize to the production of new syllables

Jill A. Warker, Gary S. Dell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Novel phonotactic constraints can be acquired by hearing or speaking syllables that follow a novel constraint. When learned from hearing syllables, these newly learned constraints generalize to syllables that were not experienced during training. However, generalization of phonotactic learning to novel syllables has never been persuasively demonstrated in production. The typical production experiment examines phonotactic learning through speech errors. After participants repeat syllable sequences embedded with a novel phonotactic constraint, such as/f/appearing only in onset position, their speech errors come to adhere to the novel constraint. For example, when participants mistakenly move an/f/to another syllable, it overwhelmingly moves to an onset rather than a coda position. We assessed whether constraints learned and measured in this manner generalize to unexperienced syllables and, at the same time, whether the slips tend to create previously experienced syllables (a syllable priming effect). We found evidence of generalization but not of syllable priming in participants' speech errors. The effect of phonotactic learning was as powerfully expressed during the production of unexperienced as experienced syllables. A connectionist model simulated the experimental results using a single learning mechanism and successfully reproduced the constraint learning, generalization, and lack of priming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1902-1910
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2015


  • Generalization
  • Language production
  • Phonotactic learning
  • Speech errors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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