An Articulatory Phonology account of preferred consonant-vowel combinations

Giulivi, Sara and Whalen, Douglas H. and Goldstein, Louis M. and Nam, Hosung and Levitt, Andrea G. (2011) An Articulatory Phonology account of preferred consonant-vowel combinations. Language Learning and Development, 7 (3). pp. 202-225. ISSN 1547-5441

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Certain consonant/vowel combinations (labial/central, coronal/front, velar/back) are more frequent in babbling as well as, to a lesser extent, in adult language, than chance would dictate. The “Frame then Content” (F/C) hypothesis (Davis & MacNeilage, 1994) attributes this pattern to biomechanical vocal-tract biases that change as infants mature. Articulatory Phonology (AP; Browman and Goldstein 1989) attributes preferences to demands placed on shared articulators. F/C implies that preferences will diminish as articulatory control increases, while AP does not. Here, babbling from children at 6, 9 and 12 months in English, French and Mandarin environments was examined. There was no developmental trend in CV preferences, although older ages exhibited greater articulatory control. A perception test showed no evidence of bias toward hearing the preferred combinations. Modeling using articulatory synthesis found limited support for F/C but more for AP, including data not originally encompassed in F/C. AP thus provides an alternative biomechanical explanation.

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