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The development of the speech production mechanism in young children: evidence from the acquisition of onset clusters in Dutch

On October 31st, Margarita Gulian succesfully defended her doctoral thesis and graduated. The Leiden University Centre for Linguistics congratulates Margarita on this great result.

Margarita Gulian
31 October 2017
Full text Leiden University Repository


The study in this thesis focuses on the development of word-onset consonant clusters, in two-year-olds, acquiring Dutch. Word-onset clusters are often simplified during acquisition, but the studies reported here demonstrate a more complex and diverse range of developmental possibilities. For example, reduced onset clusters were found systematically to contain an acoustic trace in the subsequent vowel; a seven-staged process of /Cr/ development in production was revealed. In perception longer looking times at toel (stoel) as opposed to tein (trein), evidenced for a more stable mental representation of correct /sC/ clusters. This phenomenon is studied from different perspectives. Both longitudinal and experimental data are studied, and experiments comprise both production and perception. In addition to phonological analyses, detailed acoustic analyses are performed. The speech production mechanism appears to develop in a top-down manner. The main error source for onset cluster productions is initially formed by incomplete segmental representations in the mental lexicon; with complete specifications, syllable spell-out at the phonological encoding level forms the main error locus. Phonetic encoding errors are the most persistent. Variable word forms are a hallmark of early child language; they show the relative instability of a new developmental state of the speech production mechanism.

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