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Phonological selectivity in the acquisition of English clusters

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 August 2019

Itamar SHATZ*
Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, Cambridge University
9 West Road, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB3 9DP, United Kingdom. E-mail:


Phonological selectivity is a phenomenon where children preselect which target words they attempt to produce. The present study examines selectivity in the acquisition of complex onsets and codas in English, and specifically in the acquisition of biconsonantal (CC) clusters in each position compared to triconsonantal (CCC) clusters. The data come from the naturalistic productions of three English-speaking children. The results indicate that children only attempt to produce target tokens with a CCC onset after they have successfully produced target tokens with a CC onset, and that the same occurs in the case of codas. Frequency, morphological complexity, sonority, and /s/ clusters were examined and ruled out as possible explanations of these acquisition patterns. Overall, this suggests that children are selective in their target words, and only attempt to produce words that contain a cluster after they have produced words containing a shorter cluster of the same type (i.e., onset/coda).

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