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VSP Variable stress patterns in English: Inter-individual differences and the nature of the morphology-phonology interface

Principal Investigator

Prof. Dr. Sabine Arndt-Lappe

Research Assistant

Tammy Ganster



VSP investigates systematic patterns in the variability of stress position in English complex words. The project builds on the findings of the project PROS from the first funding phase of the Research Unit. Contrary to what is expected in most of the theoretical literature on English morpho-phonology, project PROS found that a uniform grammatical pattern deriving stress position in English complex adjectives ending in ‑ory and ‑able does not seem to exist. Still, stress position is systematic. The variation is crucially co-determined by two types of factor that do not only fall outside the realm of factors normally considered 'grammatical' in the theoretical literature, but that also suggest that language users' individual linguistic experience shapes their grammatical systems to a much larger extent than is often thought.

(1) Language users (both speakers and listeners) fall into distinct groups with regard to the extent to which they do 'stress preservation' when stressing novel ‑ory and ‑able derivatives.

(2) 'Stress preservation' itself is not the preservation of stress from a putative base word, but is a probabilistic effect emerging from competition within more complex configurations of paradigmatically related words.

Project VSP systematically investigates inter-individual variation in stress position both in language production and in language perception. We use elicitation tasks to study how different speakers and listeners produce and perceive stress on novel complex words, and at how these stresses correlate with both demographic variables (esp. age, gender, educational background) and with measures of individual lexical knowledge (vocabulary size, morphological awareness). On a theoretical level, we will use our findings to develop a more adequate model of morpho-phonological competence, which crucially takes into account the role of previous linguistic experience.


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