A re-examination of the default system for Arabic plurals

Sami Boudelaa, M. Gareth Gaskell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


A Minority-default inflectional system is one in which a regular affixational process (e.g., the plural morpheme ∼s in English) applies to fewer forms in the language than the irregular stem modifying process (e.g., the umlauting in "foot-feet"-like pairs). Following the work of McCarthy and Prince (1990), the plural system of Modern Standard Arabic has been cited as an archetype of a minority-default system with the affixational sound plural involving fewer nominal forms than the templatic broken plural. On the basis of linguistic, statistical and distributional evidence we argue that this assertion is wrong. We point out that while both broken and sound plural are qualitatively productive in the sense of being subject to a number of constraints or conditioning factors, the latter is quantitatively the more productive process and involves more nominal forms. Furthermore, the diversity of the phonological forms taking a sound plural ensures that they will be treated as the default by a connectionist model. In the light of these findings we argue that a good model of morphological processing should motivate the observation that so few of the world's languages use minority defaults.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-343
Number of pages23
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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