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From phonetics to phonology: The emergence of first words in Italian*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 September 2008

University of York
Università degli Studi di Parma
University of York
[*]Tamar Keren-Portnoy, Dept. of Language and Linguistic Science, V/C/212, 2nd Floor, Block C, Vanbrugh College, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, UK. e-mail:


This study assesses the extent of phonetic continuity between babble and words in four Italian children followed longitudinally from 0 ; 9 or 0 ; 10 to 2 ; 0 – two with relatively rapid and two with slower lexical growth. Prelinguistic phonetic characteristics, including both (a) consistent use of specific consonants and (b) age of onset and extent of consonant variegation in babble, are found to predict rate of lexical advance and to relate to the form of the early words. In addition, each child's lexical profile is analyzed to test the hypothesis of non-linearity in phonological development. All of the children show the expected pattern of phonological advance: Relatively accurate first word production is followed by lexical expansion, characterized by a decrease in accuracy and an increase of similarity between word forms. We interpret such a profile as reflecting the emergence of word templates, a first step in phonological organization.

Copyright © 2008 Cambridge University Press

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