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Karen Jesney

Karen Jesney (University of Southern California) will speak at the UCSD Linguistics Department Colloquium on April 2, 2012, at 2:00 pm in AP&M 4301.

Local and Non-local Markedness in Child Consonant Cluster Acquisition

Consonant clusters introduce and interact with multiple sources of markedness, all of which must be mastered in the course of phonological acquisition. This talk considers how local factors (segmental markedness and sonority) and non-local factors (the markedness of other syllable components) affect the acquisition process. Two case studies are presented.

The first case study draws on data from the English-acquiring child Trevor (Compton & Streeter 1977, Pater 1997) to illustrate how increased segmental markedness (a local factor) can lead to lags in coda cluster acquisition. The same data indicates that non-local factors have no influence on the child’s pattern of cluster realization. This basic pattern eludes Optimality Theory, but can be modeled within Harmonic Grammar (Legendre, Miyata & Smolensky 1990, Smolensky & Legendre 2006), where weighted constraints interact in a linear fashion.

The second case study draws on data from the acquisition of Dutch (Fikkert 1994, Levelt 1994), which has been claimed to provide evidence for non-local interaction (Levelt, Schiller & Levelt 1999/2000, Levelt & van de Vijver 2004). Reanalysis of the data demonstrates that non-local interactions are, in fact, not present. Segmental markedness and sonority (local factors) continue to play an important role, however. In this case segmental factors provide a better explanation for the accuracy and general repair patterns than the sonority cline of the cluster. At the same time, the precise simplification patterns observed – specifically the choice of which segment is deleted – are, to the extent possible, governed by sonority. These complex patterns extend beyond what can be modeled through the linear interaction of simple constraints in Harmonic Grammar, and argue for the inclusion of a more articulated series of segmental licensing constraints in CON.


Compton, Arthur J. & Mary Streeter. 1977. Child phonology: data collection and preliminary analyses. In Papers and Reports in Child Language Development 13. Stanford University.

Fikkert, Paula. 1994. On the Acquisition of Prosodic Structure. PhD dissertation. University of Amsterdam.

Legendre, Géraldine, Yoshiro Miyata & Paul Smolensky. 1990. Harmonic Grammar – a formal multi-level connectionist theory of linguistic wellformedness: an application. In Proceedings of the Twelfth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, 884-891. Cambridge, MA: Lawrence Erlbaum. 

Levelt, Clara C. 1994. On the Acquisition of Place. PhD dissertation. Leiden University. 

Levelt, Clara C., Niels O. Schiller & Willem J. Levelt. 1999/2000. The acquisition of syllable types. Language Acquisition 8(3): 237-264. 

Levelt, Clara C. & Ruben van de Vijver. 2004. Syllable types in cross-linguistic and developmental grammars. In René Kager, Joe Pater & Wim Zonneveld (eds.), Fixing Priorities: Constraints in Phonological Acquisition, 204-218. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. [ROA-265]. 

Pater, Joe. 1997. Minimal violation in phonological development. Language Acquisition 6(3): 201-253. 

Smolensky, Paul & Géraldine Legendre. 2006. The Harmonic Mind: From Neural Computation to Optimality-Theoretic Grammar. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.