Child phonological responses to variegation in adult words: a cross-linguistic study

Marilyn Vihman, Mitsuhiko Ota, Tamar Keren-Portnoy, Shanshan Lou, Rui Qi Choo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Variegation – the presence of more than one supraglottal consonant per word – is a key challenge for children as they increase their expressive vocabulary toward the end of the single-word period. Here we consider the prosodic structures of target words and child forms in English, Finnish, French, Japanese and Mandarin to determine whether children learning these languages respond similarly to the challenge or instead differ in ways related to the phonological structure of the adult language. Based on proportional occurrence of each structure, we find that the word forms of children learning Mandarin and Japanese show more variegation than do those of children learning the European languages, although their target words do not; proportions of reduplication, consonant harmony and single-consonant words also differ by language. We conclude that experience with the structure of the language – and thus representation, as well as immature articulatory skills – shapes children’s responses to variegation.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Child Language
Early online date23 Aug 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s), 2022


  • phonological development
  • Consonant
  • reduplication
  • variegation
  • word production

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