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Asymmetries in the acquisition of word-initial and word-final consonant clusters

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 December 2005

University of Canterbury and Brown University
University of Canterbury and Brown University


Previous work on the acquisition of consonant clusters points to a tendency for word-final clusters to be acquired before word-initial clusters (Templin, 1957; Lleó & Prinz, 1996; Levelt, Schiller & Levelt, 2000). This paper evaluates possible structural, morphological, frequency-based, and articulatory explanations for this asymmetry using a picture identification task with 12 English-speaking two-year-olds. The results show that word-final stop+/s/ clusters and nasal+/z/ clusters were produced much more accurately than word-initial /s/+stop clusters and /s/+nasal clusters. Neither structural nor frequency factors are able to account for these findings. Further analysis of longitudinal spontaneous production data from 2 children aged 1;1–2;6 provides little support for the role of morphology in explaining these results. We argue that an articulatory account best explains the asymmetries in the production of word-initial and word-final clusters.

Research Article
2005 Cambridge University Press

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Research and manuscript preparation were supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant #1R0 IMH60922-01A2 awarded to the second author. Many thanks to Manuela Barcelos, Jessica Goldberg, and Patrick Tonks for help with running the experiment and transcribing the data. Thanks to Jessica Stites for help with data analysis. We are very grateful to Jae Yung Song for generously sharing her longitudinal data on word-final cluster acquisition. Thanks also to Matt Goldrick, Michelle Gregory, Dave Sobel, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. Finally, we would like to thank the parents and children who participated in the research.