Category Clustering and Morphological Learning
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Description: Data analysis and preregistration to accompany Mansfield, Saldana, Hurst, Nordlinger, Stoll, Bickel & Perfors (2022) https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.13107 Abstract: Inflectional affixes expressing the same grammatical category (e.g., subject agreement) tend to appear in the same morphological position in the word. We hypothesize that this cross-linguistic tendency toward category clustering is at least partly the result of a learning bias, which facilitates the transmission of morphology from one generation to the next if each inflectional category has a consistent morphological position. We test this in an online artificial language experiment, teaching adult English speakers a miniature language consisting of noun stems representing shapes and suffixes representing the color and number features of each shape. In one experimental condition, each suffix category has a fixed position, with color in the first position and number in the second position. In a second condition, each specific combination of suffixes has a fixed order, but some combinations have color in the first position, and some have number in the first position. In a third condition, suffixes are randomly ordered on each presentation. While the language in the first condition is consistent with the category clustering principle, those in the other conditions are not. Our results indicate that category clustering of inflectional affixes facilitates morphological learning, at least in adult English speakers. Moreover, we found that languages that violate category clustering but still follow fixed affix ordering patterns are more learnable than languages with random ordering. Altogether, our results provide evidence for individual biases toward category clustering; we suggest that this bias may play a causal role in shaping the typological regularities in affix order we find in natural language.