American and Swedish children’s acquisition of vowel duration: Effects of vowel identity and final stop voicing


Vowel durations typically vary according to both intrinsic (segment-specific) and extrinsic (contextual) specifications. It can be argued that such variations are due to both predisposition and cognitive learning. The present report utilizes acoustic phonetic measurements from Swedish and American children aged 24 and 30 months to investigate the hypothesis that default behaviors may precede language-specific learning effects. The predicted pattern is the presence of final consonant voicing effects in both languages as a default, and subsequent learning of intrinsic effects most notably in the Swedish children. The data, from 443 monosyllabic tokens containing high-front vowels and final stop consonants, are analyzed in statistical frameworks at group and individual levels. The results confirm that Swedish children show an early tendency to vary vowel durations according to final consonant voicing, followed only six months later by a stage at which the intrinsic influence of vowel identity grows relatively more robust. Measures of vowel formant structure from selected 30-month-old children also revealed a tendency for children of this age to focus on particular acoustic contrasts. In conclusion, the results indicate that early acquisition of vowel specifications involves an interaction between language-specific features and articulatory predispositions associated with phonetic context. © 2002 Acoustical Society of America.

Publication Title

Journal of the Acoustical Society of America