Statistical Insensitivity in the Acquisition of Tsez Noun Classes

Annie Gagliardi, Jeffrey Lidz

This paper examines the acquisition of noun classes in Tsez, looking in particular at the role of noun-internal distributional cues to class. We present a new corpus of child-directed Tsez speech, analyzing it to determine the proportion of nouns that children hear with this predictive information and how often this is heard in conjunction with overt noun class agreement information. Additionally we present an elicited production experiment that uncovers asymmetries in the classification of nouns with predictive features in the corpus and by children and adults. We show that children use noun-internal distributional information as a cue to noun class out of proportion with its reliability. Instead, children are biased to use phonological over semantic information, despite a statistical asymmetry in the other direction. We end with a discussion of where such a bias could come from.