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Title: Target phonologies in bilingual and monolingual development of branching onsets
Authors: Almeida, Letícia
Freitas, Maria João
Keywords: Language acquisition; Phonology; Bilingualism; branching onsets; cross-linguistic influence
Issue Date: Jul-2010
Publisher: Memorial University of Newfoundland
Abstract: French and European Portuguese (EP) exhibit similar syllabic properties although the phonetic string children are exposed to present significant differences. Both systems allow four combinations of obstruent + liquid branching onsets. In French all branching onsets appear in the domain of syllables with full nuclei whereas in EP the nucleus may surface with no segmental material, as the result of vowel deletion. This process is frequently attested in Portuguese adult speech and it leads to an asymmetry between phonological structures and their phonetic output forms. This way, Portuguese children are exposed to a system where sequences of several consonants in the phonetic string are common. To identify the syllable structure of the language behind the utterances children hear may therefore become a problematic task (Vigário, Frota & Freitas, 2003). On the contrary, since vowel deletion is not a productive process in French, such a difference between the phonological structures and the phonetic output forms is not attested. From an acquisition point of view, and given the target phonological properties mentioned above, to identify the syllabic nature of consonants would then be an easier task in French acquisition. In the case of French and EP bilingual development, the acquisition of branching onsets may constitute a relevant structure to evaluate the impact of different target phonologies in the bilingual child’s developmental path. In this study, we will analyze the development of branching onsets in a bilingual EP- French child and 7 monolingual EP learners. For the discussion of the data obtained, we will consider analyses displayed in the literature on the acquisition of branching onsets (Fikkert, 1994; ; Barlow, 1997; Bernhardt & Stemberger, 1998; Freitas, 1997 and 2003; Ribas, 2004; Goad & Rose, 2004; Kehoe et al. 2008). The chronological, syllabic and segmental aspects involved in the mastery of branching onsets by the children observed will be discussed on the basis of the differences between the two target systems. The late acquisition of branching onsets and vowel epenthesis exhibited by monolinguals may be interpreted as the result of the EP phonological complexity induced by vowel deletion. On the contrary, the early acquisition of the focused structure by the bilingual child and the absence of epenthesis in her data may show that French is bootstrapping the acquisition of branching onsets in her two linguistic systems.
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