Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero at LEL seminar

Posted on November 7, 2022 by

This week, we will welcome LEL’s own Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero at our departmental seminar. Ricardo will speak on Lexically restricted phonological alternation: the case for via-rules (abstract below). The talk will take place on Tuesday, 8th November in Simon1.34 starting at 4pm. All are welcome!

Featured photo is from Ricardo’s website

Lexically restricted phonological alternation: the case for via-rules

Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero

University of Manchester

This talk addresses lexically restricted phonological alternation, focusing on a case-study from present-day Spanish: the alternation between high and mid vowels that affects the roots of approximately 24% of third-conjugation verbs (Bermúdez-Otero 2016: §2). Membership in this alternating set is unpredictable, but, when a verb does take part, the distribution of its alternants is phonologically conditioned, automatic, and exceptionless.  

Crucially, although the alternation submits to a straightforward autosegmental solution involving an underlying floating [-high] feature, behavioural and neurolinguistic evidence (Linares et al. 2006) reveals that, in fact, learners of Spanish fail to adopt this analysis, opting instead for listing the two allomorphs in the lexicon. I therefore model the alternation as involving phonologically driven selection among listed stems. This approach maintains modularity, correctly predicts the size of local domains for allomorph selection, and demarcates the productive and unproductive aspects of the alternation. It is also independently supported by evidence from recognition latencies (Domínguez et al. 1999, 2000).  

Elaborating this approach, however, I argue that stored allomorphs are linked by VIA-RULES (Vennemann 1972: 225), i.e. by ‘non-directional, non-generative relational rules’ (Tiersma 1978: 65) akin to the ‘non-productive schemata’ of Jackendoff & Audring (2018). Since they are nongenerative, via-rules play no role in production and are therefore unable to trigger the systematic extension of allomorphic patterns. They do, however, play a role in lexical acquisition: language learners are subject to a general anti-alternation bias (McCarthy 1998; Hayes 2004; Tessier 2006, 2016; Do 2013, 2018), but they accept a new alternating item more readily if its behaviour matches a pattern of allomorphy encoded in a via-rule.  

Via-rules thus capture a range of facts: that lexically restricted phonological alternations typically fall into a small number of recurrent patterns (Revithiadou et al. 2019), that the learnability of an ‘irregular’ form depends not only on its own frequency but also on that of its class (Yang 2005), and that unproductive patterns may show ‘islands of reliability’ (Albright et al 2001). More generally, positing via-rules in the context of a modular stratal architecture of grammar (Bermúdez-Otero 2018) allows us to capture the differences between strong suppletion, weak suppletion, and the stem-level phonology proper, which behave differently in paradigm extension and show different frequency effects.  


Albright, Adam, Argelia Andrade & Bruce Hayes. 2001. Segmental environments of Spanish diphthongization. In Adam Albright & Taehong Cho (eds.), UCLA Working Papers in Linguistics, number 7. Papers in phonology 5., 117–151. Los Angeles: UCLA Linguistics Department.  

Bermúdez-Otero, Ricardo. 2016. We do not need structuralist morphemes, but we do need constituent structure. In Daniel Siddiqi & Heidi Harley (eds.), Morphological metatheory (Linguistics Today 229), 387-430. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.  

Bermúdez-Otero, Ricardo. 2018. Stratal Phonology. In S.J. Hannahs & Anna R. K. Bosch (eds.), The Routledge handbook of phonological theory, 100-134. Abingdon: Routledge.  

Do, Young Ah. 2013. Biased learning of phonological alternations. Doctoral thesis, MIT.  

Do, Young Ah. 2018. Paradigm uniformity bias in the learning of Korean verbal inflections. Phonology 35 (4), 547-575.  

Domínguez, Alberto, Fernando Cuetos & Juan Seguí. 1999. The processing of grammatical gender and number in Spanish. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 28 (5), 485-498.  

Domínguez, Alberto, Fernando Cuetos & Juan Seguí. 2000. Morphological processing in word recognition: a review with particular reference to Spanish data. Psicológica 21, 375-401.  

Hayes, Bruce. 2004. Phonological acquisition in Optimality Theory: the early stages. In René Kager, Joe Pater & Wim Zonneveld (eds.), Constraints in phonological acquisition, 158-203. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

Jackendoff, Ray & Jenny Audring. 2018. Morphology and memory: toward an integrated theory. Topics in Cognitive Science.  

Linares, Rafael Enrique, Antoni Rodriguez-Fornells & Harald Clahsen. 2006. Stem allomorphy in the Spanish mental lexicon: evidence from behavioral and ERP experiments. Brain and Language 97 (1), 110-120.  

McCarthy, John J. 1998. Morpheme structure constraints and paradigm occultation. In M. Catherine Gruber, Derrick Higgins, Kenneth Olson & Tamra Wysocki (eds.), CLS 32, Part 2: The Panels, 123-150. Chicago, IL: Chicago Linguistic Society.  

Revithiadou, Anthi, Giorgos Markopoulos & Vassilios Spyropoulos. 2019. Changing shape according to strength: evidence from root allomorphy in Greek. The Linguistic Review 36 (3), 553-574.  

Tessier, Anne-Michelle. 2006. Biases and stages in phonological acquisition. Amherst, MA: Doctoral dissertation, University of Massachusetts. Available as ROA-883-1106, Rutgers Optimality Archive, http://roa.rutgers.edu

 Tessier, Anne-Michelle. 2016. Phonological acquisition: child language and constraint-based grammar. London: Palgrave.  

Tiersma, Peter. 1978. Bidirectional leveling as evidence for relational rules. Lingua 45 (1), 65-77.  

Vennemann, Theo. 1972. Rule inversion. Lingua 29, 209-242.  

Yang, Charles. 2005. The origin of linguistic irregularity. In James W. Minett & William S.-Y. Wang (eds.), Language acquisition, change and emergence: essays in evolutionary linguistics, 297-328. Kowloon, Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press.

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