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Perception of foreignness

Ben Gelbart, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In some languages, a subset of the lexicon is exempt from generalizations that hold over the rest of the lexicon. Usually, the words that make up this exceptional class are loanwords from a foreign language. This dissertation argues that such a partitioning of the lexicon more or less according to the historical origins of words is psychologically real to native speakers and should be considered part of Universal Grammar. I conducted a series of experiments using speakers of Japanese, English, and Latvian to show that speakers use knowledge of the stratification of their languages to resolve ambiguities in the sound signal. I found some evidence to suggest that speakers interpret certain marked speech sounds as a sign of foreignness and also that speakers are aware of the foreign origin of some unmarked words. I argue that information concerning the source of unmarked foreign words can only come from non-grammatical sources. However, once supplied with this information, the grammar can account for perceptual bias, as well as classify marked words into their respective lexical strata. These results can be obtained by combining several already existing proposals that have been made recently within the Optimality Theory framework.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Gelbart, Ben, "Perception of foreignness" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3200606.