Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 735–765 | Cite as

Nonce words show that Russian yer alternations are governed by the grammar

  • Maria Gouskova
  • Michael Becker


Even though vowel deletion in Russian is lexically-restricted, the identity of alternating vowels is partially predictable: only mid vowels delete, but even mid vowels cannot delete in some contexts. We report on two nonce word studies asking Russian speakers to rate paradigms in which a vowel was deleted. The ratings strongly correlated with the quality of the vowel: deletion of mid vowels was rated higher than deletion of high and low vowels. We also found that deletion in certain syllabic contexts was rated as ungrammatical: deletion cannot affect words that have a complex coda, and it cannot create clusters with a medial sonorant. Finally, deletion in disyllables was rated higher than deletion in monosyllables, reflecting the trends in the lexicon. These results suggest that even for this lexically-restricted alternation, speakers have formed a phonological generalization.


Lexically indexed constraints Lexical exceptions Yer deletion Russian Wug test Analogy Allomorphy 



For helpful comments and suggestions, we would like to thank Adam Albright, Ryan Bennett, Junko Ito, Heather Mahan, Armin Mester, Jaye Padgett, Donca Steriade, Colin Wilson, and audiences at New York University, UMass Amherst, the University of California, Santa Cruz, NELS 42, and LSA 86. We would also like to thank Anna Aristova, Yevgenia Gouskova, Vera Gribanova, Stephanie Harves, Pavel Iosad, Sofya Kasyanenko, Inna Livitz, Maria Minchenko, Barbara Partee, Amanda Rysling, as well as the many native Russian speakers for volunteering their time for our study. Special thanks to Junko Ito and the anonymous reviewers for helpful feedback, which has greatly improved the article. Please address correspondence to and


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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