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Title:First steps in the acquisition of German consonants: minimal constraint demotion
Authors:Janet Grijzenhout, Sandra Joppen
Abstract:First Steps in the Acquisition of German Consonants:

Minimal Constraint Demotion

Janet Grijzenhout & Sandra Joppen

Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Düsseldorf

The paper examines the acquisition of word-initial and word-final consonants

by one German child, Naomi, between age 1;2.06 and 1;8.21 and compares the

findings with data from another German child and from English, Dutch, and

Portuguese children. Two standard assumptions in the literature on the early

acquisition of phonology (e.g., Fikkert 1994a,b, Ingram 1978, Jakobson 1941)

are: (i) the first words in child speech consist of a consonant followed by

a vowel and (ii) the first consonants that appear in child speech are oral

plosives. From these two assumptions the following predictions ensue: (i)

vowel-initial words are absent in early child speech and (ii) consonants are

initially realised as plosives. These predictions are not answered in the

study of child speech that we present in this paper. We show that the first

words in German child speech consist of at least one consonant and one vowel

and the consonant may either precede or follow the vowel. Also, word-final

fricatives may be realised as such from the onset of speech. Word-initial

fricatives are deleted at the earliest word stage and, in contrast to the

predictions formulated above, they are not necessarily replaced by any other

consonant. Our findings are confirmed by another study on German child speech

(Elsen 1991) and also support the findings of a study on Portuguese child

speech where it is argued that children produce vowel-initial words at the

earliest acquisition stage (Costa & Freitas 1998).

The aim of this paper is to provide an account of the initial stages in the

acquisition of German onsets and codas, respectively. We demonstrate how an

Optimality-theoretic approach can account for the fact that a word-final

consonant is realised by Naomi and Annalena (see Elsen 1991) only in the

absence of a word-initial consonant. We also account for the observation

that an adult VVC or VCC rhyme is first realised with a long vowel without

a following consonant, then with a short vowel plus a consonant, and finally

as a tripositional rhyme. We argue that these observed stages arise through

the gradual increase in complexity of syllable structure and minimal

constraint demotion (see Tesar & Smolensky 1993, 1998). We furthermore show

that the same set of constraints and the mechanism of constraint demotion can

be used to explain different stages in the acquisition of Dutch consonants.
Type:Paper/tech report
Article:Version 1