Goals of this research
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Goals of this research. Study the acquisition of word-final sonorants relative to their acquisition in onset position (in comparison with other consonant types) Determine the prosodic category of these sonorants; see if the observations follow cross-linguistic trends

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1 acquisition of consonants by type

Goals of this research

  • Study the acquisition of word-final sonorants relative to their acquisition in onset position (in comparison with other consonant types)

  • Determine the prosodic category of these sonorants; see if the observations follow cross-linguistic trends

  • Determine whether other factors are playing a role in the acquisition of word-final consonants and, if so, examine their general effect on acquisition

  • Data from the child named Marilyn (code-named MAS in other publications):

    • Monolingual French learner

    • Recorded every second week between 0;9 and 3;0

    • Period studied: 1;11.13 to 2;2.29 (8 recordings; 5386 utterances)

  • Recorded data transcribed phonetically by native speakers of French

  • Results are compiled in an Excel spreadsheet

  • Labial fricatives (5) and /ʁ/ (6) are not acquired in onset of stressed syllable

  • The typological trend and the prosodic analysis cannot explain this phenomenon

  • Hypothesis: this phenomenon is due to articulatory constraints specific for this child (Inkelas and Rose 2003, Rose and dos Santos, to appear)

    • Coronal fricatives are not totally acquired

      • The place of coronal fricatives in the prosodic word structure is acquired (87,5% produced)

      • The segment is not acquired: 80,25% are substituted

        • 50% by nasals or stops Harmony (=CH) (3)

        • 50% by /l/ if there is no nasals or stops in the output (4)

    • The onset of stressed syllable is a strong prosodic position

    • Coronal fricatives require refined control of the apex, especially in strong prosodic positions (to prevent overshooting, stopping effects)

    • /l/ is a good candidate to substitute coronal fricatives

      • From an articulatory point of view, /l/ is easier to maintain because it offers a support point in the alveolar region

      • The substitution preserves the continuancy of the substituted fricative

      • [ɬ] is more complex than /l/ and is not in the child’s inventory

    • Labial and dorsal fricatives [f, v, ʁ] are deleted

      • No labial or dorsal consonant exists which could enable a preservation of the continuancy of the target fricatives or provide an articulatory support

(2) Coda and onset of empty-headed syllable

Sonorants acquisition and positional neutralization: typological, prosodic and articulatory considerations*

Yvan Rose1 and Christophe dos Santos2

1Department of Linguistics, Memorial University, Canada; 2Laboratoire Dynamique Du Langage (UMR CNRS 5596) Université Lumière Lyon 2, France* This research is financed by the National Institute of Mental Health Grant #IR0 IMH60922-01A2, project author K. Demuth (Brown University, Providence).


  • The prosodic category to which belongs the consonant at the right edge of the word is subject to controversy

  • This debate is due to the different behaviors that this consonant can display across natural languages

  • Several propositions has been made to categorize this consonant: coda (Tranel 1987), extrasyllabic consonant (Itô 1986), onset of an empty-headed syllable (Kaye, Lowenstamm et Vergnaud 1990)…

  • Piggott (1999) proposes to categorize each consonant on a language-specific basis, depending on its behavior relative to other consonants

  • Zec (1988) noted that sonorants tend to behave more like codas than non-sonorants

(1) Acquisition of consonants by type 



  • Word-final consonants:

    • Obstruents = acquired

    • Sonorants ≠ acquired

  • Word-initial consonants

    • Obstruents = acquired (except labial fricatives)

    • Sonorant = acquired (except /ʁ/)

  • Generalization in comparison with typological trends:

    • Obstruents behave like onsets of empty-headed syllables (2)

    • Sonorants behave like codas (2)

Prosodic analysis

  • Onset of empty-headed syllable

    • No branching structure

    • Acquired early in word-final position (Goad and Brannen 2003)

    • Prime prosodic position for obstruents

  • Coda

    • Branching rhyme projection

    • Acquired late in word-final position (Rose 2000)

    • Sonorant acquisition

Discussion on external factor

(3) Coronal fricatives substituted through CH

(4) Coronal fricatives substituted by /l/

(5) Deletion of labial fricatives

(6) Deletion of /ʁ/


A full analysis of the general development of final consonant requires a combination of different grammatical and non-grammatical factors. This study provides evidence for a significant interaction between grammatical and articulatory (physiological, motoric) factors. These types of interactions help to explain phenomena observed in children’s productions. In order to provide full story of the development of child phonology, we need a model in which we can combine and weigh each of the different factors involved and predict their interactions. The relationship between acquisition and typology provides insight into the general condition of the acquisition process by the human language faculty


  • Goad, Heather and Kathleen Brannen (2003). Phonetic Evidence for Phonological Structure in Syllabification. In The Phonological Spectrum, Vol. 2, Jeroen van de Weijer, Vincent van Heuven and Harry van der Hulst (eds.). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 3-30.

  • Inkelas, S., & Rose, Y. (2003). Velar Fronting Revisited. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 26th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, Somerville, MA.

  • Itô, J. (1986). Syllable Theory in Prosodic Phonology. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

  • Kaye, J., Lowenstamm, J., & Vergnaud, J.-R. (1990). Constituent Structure and Government Phonology. Phonology, 7, 193-231.

  • Piggott, G. L. (1999). At the Right Edge of Words. The Linguistic Review, 16(2), 143-185.

  • Rose, Y. (2000). Headedness and Prosodic Licensing in the L1 Acquisition of Phonology. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, McGill University.

  • Rose, Y., & dos Santos, C. (à paraître). Influences multiples dans l'harmonie consonantique et la métathèse en acquisition du français. Recherches linguistiques de Vincennes.

  • Tranel, B. (1987). The Sounds of French : An Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

  • Zec, D. (1988). Sonority Constraints on Prosodic Structure. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Stanford University.