Finding words in a language that allows words without vowels
El Aissati, A., McQueen, J. M., & Cutler, A.
Finding words in a language that allows words without vowels. Cognition, 124
, 79-84. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2012.03.006.
Across many languages from unrelated families, spoken-word recognition is subject to a
constraint whereby potential word candidates must contain a vowel. This constraint minimizes
competition from embedded words (e.g., in English, disfavoring win in twin because
t cannot be a word). However, the constraint would be counter-productive in certain languages
that allow stand-alone vowelless open-class words. One such language is Berber
(where t is indeed a word). Berber listeners here detected words affixed to nonsense contexts
with or without vowels. Length effects seen in other languages replicated in Berber,
but in contrast to prior findings, word detection was not hindered by vowelless contexts.
When words can be vowelless, otherwise universal constraints disfavoring vowelless
words do not feature in spoken-word recognition.