Authors: Gierut JA
Title: Syllable onsets: clusters and adjuncts in acquisition
Source: Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 1999 42(3): 708-726
Year: 1999
Research Design: Single Case Design

The Sonority Sequencing Principle is a presumed universal that governs the permissible sequences of consonants within syllables. In two single-subject experiments, we evaluated this principle as applied to the acquisition of onset clusters and adjuncts by children exhibiting functional phonological delays (age in years;months: 3;2 to 7;8). Experiment 1 tested the hypothesis that children abide by the Sonority Sequencing Principle in development, such that the occurrence and use of marked true clusters implies unmarked clusters, but not vice versa. This claim was validated, in part, by the gradient generalization learning patterns of children who were taught marked clusters. Others who were taught unmarked clusters exhibited limited learning characteristic of within-class generalization, with apparent gaps in sonority sequencing. Experiment 2 examined the role of adjunct sequences /sp, st, sk/, whose markedness status is questionable given their violation of the Sonority Sequencing Principle. Results indicated that children learned adjuncts consistent with patterns of within-class generalization, thereby supporting the view that these sequences are unmarked in structure. Experimental findings are integrated in discussion of the representation of onset clusters and their course of emergence in phonological acquisition relative to the Sonority Sequencing Principle.

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