Infants’ knowledge of phonotactics in different prosodic positions
|Title||Infants’ knowledge of phonotactics in different prosodic positions|
|Year of Publication||2004|
|Conference Name||Workshop on First and Second Language Acquisition|
|Authors||Zamuner, Tania S.|
|Publisher||Nederlandse Vereniging voor Fonetische Wetenschappen|
|Conference Location||Nijmegen, The Netherlands|
Dutch allows both voiced and voiceless obstruents in initial position, but only voiceless obstruents in final position. The underlying /d/ surfaces as [t] in the plural noden ‘emergencies’, but as [t] in the singular nood ‘emergency’. Voiceless obstruents do not undergo a similar alternation: [t] is produced in both nooten ‘nuts’ and noot ‘nut’. To acquire knowledge of voicing neutralization, the learner needs to realize that in final position voiced stops are phonotactically illegal.
Previous research has shown that by 9-months, English-learning infants have acquired knowledge about their language specific phonotactics (e.g. Juscyzk et al., 1995). We predicted that by 9-months, Dutch-learning infants should demonstrate knowledge of voicing phonotactics. In the first studies, 9- and 11-month-old Dutch-learning infants were presented with lists of non-words ending in phonotactically legal voiceless obstruents versus phonotactically illegal voiced obstruents. Infants showed no preference for either list.
We then explored the possiblity that infants were not sensitive to the nature of the phonotactic pattern tested. While voiced stops are restricted in final position, they do occur in the language; therefore, this requires a sophisticated knowledge of phonotactics. Similarily, the voicing contrast may not be as salient as other contrasts. 9-month-old Dutch-learning infants were then presented with a more salient contrast: lists of non-words ending in native phonemes versus non-native phonemes. Infants showed no preference for either list. We then tested whether infants showed no preference for voicing or native phonotactics because contrasts occured in final position. 9-month-old Dutch-learning infants were presented with lists of non-words beginning with native phonemes versus non-native phonemes. Infants listened significantly longer to non-words begining with native phonemes phonemes. The combined results suggest that infants are not very sensitive to phonotactic patterns in final position. Moreover, the findings suggest that infants learn phonotactics in different prosodic positions at different times in development.