Computational simulations of CV combination preferences in babbling

Nam, Hosung and Goldstein, Louis M. and Giulivi, Sara and Levitt, Andrea G. and Whalen, Douglas H. (2012) Computational simulations of CV combination preferences in babbling. Journal of Phonetics, 41 (2). pp. 63-77. ISSN 0095-4470

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There is a tendency for spoken consonant-vowel (CV) syllables, in babbling in particular, to show preferred combinations: labial consonants with central vowels, alveolars with front, and velars with back. This pattern was first described by MacNeilage and Davis, who found the evidence compatible with their "frame-then-content" (F/C) model. F/C postulates that CV syllables in babbling are produced with no control of the tongue (and therefore effectively random tongue positions) but systematic oscillation of the jaw. Articulatory Phonology (AP; Browman & Goldstein) predicts that CV preferences will depend on the degree of synergy of tongue movements for the C and V. We present computational modeling of both accounts using articulatory synthesis. Simulations found better correlations between patterns in babbling and the AP account than with the F/C model. These results indicate that the underlying assumptions of the F/C model are not supported and that the AP account provides a better and account with broader coverage by showing that articulatory synergies influence all CV syllables, not just the most common ones.

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