A Metrical Template Account of Children’s Weak Syllable Omissions from Multisyllabic Words

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Young children learning English as well as many other languages frequently omit weakly stressed syllables from multisyllabic words. In particular, they are more likely to omit weak syllables from word-initial positions than from word-internal or -final positions. For example, the weak syllable of a weak-strong (WS) word like giraffe is much more likely to be omitted than the weak syllable of a SW word like tiger. Three hypotheses for this omission pattern have been offered. In two, child-ren’s weak syllable omissions reflect innate perceptual biases either to ignore initial weak syllables or to encode word-final syllables. In contrast, the SW Production Template Hypothesis states that children have a template for producing a strong syllable followed by an optional weak syllable. When they apply a series of SW templates to their intended utterances, weak syllables that do not fit the templates are more likely to be omitted than those that do. To compare the three hypotheses, young two-year-olds were asked to say four-syllable SWWS and WSWS nonsense words. Children’s pattern of weak syllable preservations was highly consistent with the SW production template hypothesis, but not with the perception-based hypotheses. Implications of this research for children’s function morpheme omissions and for the relation of metrical and segmental production templates are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)565-584
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of child language
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • General Psychology


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