Suppletion impacts on theories of the lexicon, language change and language acquisition, and for this reason “is of considerable interest” (Mel’čuk 2000: 511). An observation often made is that there exists a relationship between suppletion and frequency (c.f. Bybee 1995, Greenberg 1996). A lexeme where there is a suppletive relationship between its word-forms usually falls within the group of higher frequency items. Because the relation is with high frequency, suppletion sheds light on the mental lexicon. High frequency words correlate with quick processing speeds, for example lexical decision times, suggesting a memory effect: the more frequently an item is accessed, the stronger the memory traces, hence the quicker the response times (see for example Clahsen, Eisenbeis, Hadler and Sonnenstuhl forthcoming). The implication is that high frequency items are stored differently. Using the results of a corpus-based analysis of Russian nouns, this paper draws together the three separate but often associated areas: suppletion, word frequency and the way items are stored in the mental lexicon. The findings show that the relationship is dependent on what is meant by frequency, which in turn suggests that suppletion can better be accounted for by combinatorial models than associative models of lexical storage.

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