Phonological reduction in the first part of noun compounds

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Regular plural nouns rarely appear as the first member of a compound noun in English under any circumstances, while irregular plurals are more likely under certain conditions. One explanation holds that this is a consequence of the fundamentally different ways in which regular and irregular plurals are stored and processed, while an alternative explanation suggests that it may be rooted in phonological differences between regular and irregular forms. If the first part of a compound is phonologically restricted, the restrictions may interact with lexical access in a way that disfavors regular plurals (especially given that plurals of any sort are of low frequency in the first part of a compound, so processing is far from ceiling). This paper provides evidence from a case study of one child that the first part of a compound can be phonologically restricted compared to nouns when they appear as independent words. The data address compounds whose first elements are monomorphemic nouns, rather than plurals, but document the existence of phonological restrictions within compounds for at least one child This existence proof strengthens the hypothesis that differences between regular and irregular forms may derive partly from differences in phonological structure.


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