While a number of phonologists assume that phonotactics can provide clues to abstract morphological information, this possibility has largely gone unconsidered in work on Bantu noun classes. We present experimental evidence from isiXhosa (a Bantu language of the Nguni family, from South Africa), showing that speakers make use of root phonotactics when assigning noun classes to nonce words. Nouns in Xhosa bear class-indicating prefixes, but some of these prefixes are homophonous – and therefore ambiguous. Our findings show that when speakers are presented with words that have prefixes ambiguous between two classes, phonotactic factors can condition them to treat the nouns as one class or the other. This suggests that noun class (and other abstract morphological information) is not only stored in the lexicon, but is also redundantly indicated by phonotactic clues.
- Noun class