A conditional learnability argument for constraints on underlying representations

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We explore the implications of a particular approach to learning for an architectural question in phonology. The learning approach follows the principle of Minimum Description Length (MDL), which has recently been used for learning in both constraint-based and rule-based phonology. The architectural question on which we focus is whether the grammar allows language-specific statements to be made at the level of the lexicon, as was assumed in early generative phonology, or whether such statements are prohibited, as is commonly assumed within more recent work. We show that under MDL, the architectural question has real empirical implications: across a range of seemingly natural representational schemes, an ability to make language-specific statements about the lexicon is needed to ensure the learnability of an important aspect of phonological knowledge.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)745-773
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Linguistics
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2020


  • Learning
  • Minimum description length
  • Phonology
  • Richness of the base
  • Theory comparison


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