Effects of sublexical pattern frequency on production accuracy in young children – Mary Beckman (Department of Linguistics, Ohio State University)

April 24, 2001 all-day

A growing body of research on adult speech perception and production suggests that phonological processing is grounded in generalizations about sub-lexical patterns and the relative frequencies with which they occur in the lexicon. Much infant perception work suggests that the acquisition of attentional strategies appropriate for lexical access in the native language similarly is based on generalizations over the lexicon. Given this picture of the adult and the infant, we might expect to see the influence of phoneme frequency and phoneme sequence frequency on young children’s production accuracy and fluency as well. We have done several experiments recently which document such influences. For example, we looked at the frequency of /k/ relative to /t/ in Japanese words, and its effect on word-initial lingual stops produced by young children acquiring the language. Both relative accuracy overall and error patterns differed from those observed for English-acquiring children, in ways that reflect the different relative frequencies of coronals and dorsals in the language. Another set of studies focused on the effect of phoneme sequence frequency in English words on the accuracy and fluency of non-word repetition by young English-speaking children. We had 87 children, aged 3-7, imitate nonsense forms containing diphone sequences that were controlled for transitional probability. For example, a non-word containing high-frequency /ft/ was matched to another non-word containing low-frequency /fk/. Children were generally less accurate on the low-frequency sequence, and the size of this effect was correlated with the size of the difference in transitional probability. It was also correlated the child’s vocabulary size. That is, the more words a child knows, the more robust the phonological abstraction. These results have important implications for models of phonological competence and its relationship to the lexicon.

Mary E. Beckman is a Professor of Linguistics and Speech & Hearing Science at Ohio State University in Columbus, OH, and also spends part of the year as a Professor at the Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Sciences in Sydney, Australia. Much of her work has focused on intonation and prosodic structure in English and Japanese. For example, she is co-author (with Janet Pierrehumbert) of the 1988 monograph Japanese Tone Structure, and she wrote the associated intonation synthesis program. She also has worked on speech kinematics, on effects of lexical frequency and sub-lexical pattern frequency on phonological processing, and on phonological acquisition.

Center for Language and Speech Processing