Trajectories of faithfulness in child-specific phonology

Michael Becker & Anne-Michelle Tessier

Article (pdf)

Becker, Michael & Anne-Michelle Tessier (2011) Trajectories of faithfulness in child-specific phonology. Phonology 28:2, pp. 163–196.

Also available as ROA-1141.


This paper presents evidence for U-shaped development in the phonology of an English-learning child, Trevor. Using a rich longitudinal corpus (Compton and Streeter 1977, Pater 1997) we demonstrate that Trevor's consonant harmony follows a U-shape trajectory from faithful to harmonized and back to faithful, in contrast to the typical S-shaped progression of his complex onsets, which are initially reduced to singletons and gradually become faithful. Having established the statistical significance of the U-shaped pattern, we analyze these two developmental paths using an OT model of phonological acquisition (Prince & Tesar 2004, Hayes 2004, Tessier 2007), in which the child's gradual changes and variation over time are the effects of stored old productions rather than gradient or variable grammars. We also analyze the decrease in Trevor's faithfulness to place of articulation as the result of adding a new constraint to the grammar during the course of learning. The OT analysis comes with a computational implementation, showing how newly-added constraints, along with competition between old forms and the current grammar, allows the model to derive both Trevor's S- and U-shaped patterns.

Materials and results

These files may be used freely; please acknowledge if used in publication.
Please also acknowledge Compton & Streeter (1977) and Pater (1997), as we do.

Materials and results (zip file)

If you want the entire Trevor corpus, or the files that are associated with previous versions of this work, please contact us.

Contact info

Michael Becker,
Anne-Michelle Tessier,