Cognition, Vol. 3, No. 4 by J. Mehler & T. G. Bever (Editors)

By J. Mehler & T. G. Bever (Editors)

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The consonant deletion rules of Maori and of French are examples of what phonologists today call ‘natural’ rules. In both languages, the result of the rules is a simplification in syllable structure between words. On the other hand, a rule deleting word-final consonants before vowels, but not before consonants, would be classified as ‘unnatural’. g. g. *[peti ami]; these would be considered less desirable syllable structures. 53 in psychological experiments. In general, if we were to take two groups of Ss and expose one group to linguistic data exemplifying the natural process and the other group to data exemplifying the unnatural process, would the natural group have less difficulty in discovering and using their rule ?

With training, however, students can often master the required performance. Consider the student who has learned, for example, the words for ‘book’ and ‘dog’, oga and sipu, and who must learn that ‘small book’ and ‘small dog’ are in this unnatural corpus, tupa oga and tupak sipu, respectively. He is liable to recall these phrases erroneously, when he recalls them at all, as tupak oga and tupa sipu, if in fact the natural rule has psychological reality and influences his performance on this task.

Two who had been exposed to the natural corpus volunteered that their language worked exactly like French, while one unnatural S (the one who reached criterion rapidly) reported that his language worked like French but the other way around. These Ss, who reached criterion in 3, 3, and 4 trials, respectively, confirm that overt knowledge of a rule aids in solving linguistic problems. By the same token, we have already seen that there &as a significant correlation, for Ss who did not know French, between explicit knowledge of the rule and performance on Part C that is, the application of the rule to new linguistic data.

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