Gouskova, Maria and Michael Becker. 2013. Nonce words show that Russian yer alternations are governed by the grammar. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 31:3, pp. 735-765.
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.