Proscriptions…Gaps…and Something in Between: An Experimental Examination of Spanish Phonotactics
This study tests, via the collection of online, behavioral data, native speaker reactions to two types of words that are absent from the Spanish lexicon. The experiment compares proscriptions, phonotactic sequences that are phonologically prohibited, historical gaps, forms that are synchronically licit but absent as a result of diachronic change, and fully-licit controls. In a word naming task, the patterning of production errors and reaction times proves statistically different across the three word types. The three-way split among proscriptions, historical gaps, and licit gaps challenges traditional approaches to quantity sensitivity which consider syllables binarily “light” or “heavy.” The results suggest a gradient sensitivity to varying degrees of syllable weight. In view of these findings, we argue in favor of a probabilistic conception of the lexicon in which the fine-grained subtlety of the patterns across the lexicon may be tracked statistically to form multiple levels of generalization in the phonological grammar.