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On testing the psychological reality of phonological rules Reid, Heather Jean

Abstract

This investigation was motivated by the growing dissatisfaction with the inconsistent use of empirical methodology in transformational generative phonology (TGP) and by the resulting limited value which TGP has for other scientific fields of study. The investigation is concerned with judging a particular experimental paradigm for its validity as a confirmation/disconfirmation procedure with the intention of consequently confirming or disconfirming the psychological reality of certain phonological rules. As revealed in the review of the relevant literature, one could justify the violation of TGP's ideal speaker-listener framework—which would result from testing some of TGP1s hypotheses—by using real speaker-listeners. Previous testing for the use of certain of Chomsky and Halle's (1968) phonological rules has raised doubts about the validity of claims concerning these rules' psychological reality. The method used in the present study consisted of requiring subjects to derive and pronounce novel words (without the use of pencil and paper) from existing English stem-words and suffixes aurally presented to them. One group of subjects was exposed to existing English derivations which exemplified sound patterns accounted for by Chomsky and Halle through the rules under investigation. This group was also exposed to example derivations which showed no phonetic change. A second group of subjects were exposed only to examples showing no phonetic change. Analysis of the results show, first (with respect to the present experiment's design), that the distribution of the number of predicted responses (i.e. the responses predicted by the rules under investigation) in each group of subjects is very similar. It is concluded that each group showed a similar ability in performing the novel derivation task and that the subjects were representative samples of the population under study. The greater occurrence of predicted sound patterns in the responses of the first group of subjects is attributed to that group's exposure to example derivations showing predicted phonetic changes. The overall production of predicted sound patterns in each group cannot be attributed to just a few subjects. A trend appears in which stem-suffix sets which were most often involved in given predicted phonetic changes were the same in both groups' responses. Conclusions are also drawn with respect to the validity of the experimental paradigm as a valid procedure for confirming or disconfirming the phonological rules in question. First, the logical argument which uses the positive consequences of an hypothesis, known as "the fallacy of affirming the consequent," is invalid. Thus, none of the various possible strategies of sound pattern production which were considered (in order to account for subjects' responses) could be affirmed. Secondly, a valid argument of the type modus tollens can be used when the consequences of an hypothesis are negative. The valid conclusion permitted by this argument is the disconfirmation of the hypothesis. Some of the problems encountered with this argument are discussed: (a) it is impossible to determine the exact number of times that an hypothesis is disconfirmed in a set of data in which some of the data consist of positive consequences; (b) the argument must be carefully quantified in order to permit valid conclusions to be drawn from data that is derived from real (i.e. non-idealized) conditions of the world; and (c) there exists no criterion frequency of (non-)use for the (dis)confirmation of the 'psychological reality of a phonological rule'. If it were possible to explicitly specify the extension of a rule's use, such a criterion frequency of a rule's (non-)use might be well motivated. In its absence, the psychological reality of phonological rules could not even be disconfirmed in this study.

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