The role of semantics in learning morphological systems. An artificial lexicon experiment


19th International Morphology Meeting - Vienna, Austria - 6-8 February 2020


February, 2020


Francesca Franzon, Alessia Zampieri and Davide Crepaldi

Whereas lexical words can encode potentially any meaning about the referential world, inflectional morphology encodes only a limited set of semantic features. Such features are cross-linguistically consistent and seem closely related to salient aspects of the environment processed by core knowledge systems: Tense encodes time perception, Number encodes numerosity, Gender systems are often based on animacy. Why are some features constantly present across languages grammars? And why are others, such as color, never attested? It has been suggested that morphology developed in a way that allows prompt communication of this salient information.
The aim of this study is to explore the possible effects of this salience in the learning of novel morphological systems. Are typologically attested inflectional oppositions (animate vs. inanimate) easier to learn with respect to unattested morphological oppositions (light vs. dark)? We tried to answer this question through an artificial grammar experiment, exploiting novel words and novel entities