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Reviewed by:
  • Phonological acquisition: Child language and constraint-based grammar by Anne-Michelle Tessier
  • John Archibald
Phonological acquisition: Child language and constraint-based grammar. By Anne-Michelle Tessier. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Pp. 414. ISBN 9780230293779. $55.


This book has clearly been written by someone who researches, teaches, and loves phonological acquisition. There are many audiences who are interested in child speech: linguists, clinicians, teachers, psychologists, and so forth. Each audience presents its own challenges, of course. Tessier has succeeded in producing a book that will fit into the undergraduate linguistics curriculum because it seeks to both describe and explain (in the Chomskyan sense) the developmental paths and patterns of child phonological acquisition. T also ensures that the book is well grounded in phonological theory, which is important for two reasons. One is that any account of language acquisition depends on the model of what is being acquired (and that is what phonological theory provides). Second, any discussion of child phonology needs to tackle the question of whether child grammars are consistent with the principles and properties of the grammars of primary languages (say adult French, or Norwegian). It would certainly work in a course dedicated to child phonology, but I can also see it working as one of the texts for a course on phonological theory.

Brief summary

At first blush, many researchers and students alike might be forgiven for thinking that phonological acquisition is a specialized niche in the linguistic academy. However, as the book ably demonstrates, in order to be able to deeply probe the intricacies of the field, the researcher needs to be conversant in: child development, auditory perception, articulatory phonetics, phonological theory, and psycholinguistic methodology. It is, hence, a field that brings together many different perspectives in order to be able to understand the phenomena in question.

The structure of the book reflects this broad perspective. Ch. 1 (‘A phonological refresher’) introduces such things as the International Phonetic Alphabet, spectrograms, syllabic structure, sonority, and stress (and metrical feet), as well as concepts such as competence/performance and production/perception that are important when it comes to understanding what children know and can do.

Ch. 2 (‘Infant speech acquisition’) outlines the research paradigm, which has demonstrated that a lot is going on in that first year of life. Children can perceive, discriminate, and anticipate many phonological elements long before they are producing them. As T notes, in her engaging style, ‘after reading Chapter 2, you will never look at drooling babies the same way again’. She explores high-amplitude sucking and head-turn preference methodologies to gain insight into the perceptual world of infants, and examines the early production stages of babbling (canonical and variegated). All of this sets the stage for Ch. 3 (‘Early phonology: The shapes of syllables’), which introduces some of the basic machinery of optimality theory (OT), focusing on syllabic constraints (such as NoCoda and NoComplexOnset) as well as issues of the nature of the input forms. Thus, tableaux and the notion of optimizing syllabic shapes in output are presented to the students. This is done in a way that interleaves the discussion of child outputs with the constraint-based phonologies of language such as Samoan, Yakuts, and Portuguese. T provides useful signposts for students who want to know more about the representations (are stress or syllables included?) or constraints (functional grounding). In this way, a phonological acquisition course would blend well with an advanced course on phonological theory. I have often found it to be the case that there is a sizable group of students who come to appreciate the theory if it is grounded in acquisition data. Speaking personally, much of what I know of syntactic theory came from reading work on L2 syntax. It works for phonology too. [End Page e375]

Ch. 4 (‘Early phonology: Word sizes and shapes’) looks at larger prosodic units such as metrical feet (iambs and trochees) and constructs such as the minimal word, which influence the phonological outputs of children. These data allow for an exploration of markedness and faithfulness constraints in order to explain developmental paths.

Ch. 5 (‘Early phonology: Consonants’) outlines OT accounts of child consonantal...


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