Motor influences on grammar in an emergentist model of phonology

Tara Mc Allister Byun, Anne Michelle Tessier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Any account aiming to provide a comprehensive picture of children's acquisition of speech must consider both the development of the phonological grammar and the maturation of the structures and motor skills used to implement the sounds of a language. Much previous literature has been marked by a tendency to draw sharp demarcations between motor and grammatical influences, or to assert that all of child speech can be reduced to one or the other. This paper argues that it is neither necessary nor desirable to segregate speech-motor development from grammatical development when modeling speech acquisition, because they are fundamentally intertwined. The paper focuses on bringing together two literatures that have evolved largely independently. The first explores how speech-motor patterns practiced during babbling come to be disproportionately represented in the lexicon in children's earliest stages of meaningful speech. The second posits that abstract elements of phonology – segments, features, and constraints – can be understood to emerge from generalizations over stored memory traces at a more holistic level. We argue that an emergentist model of phonological learning can be enhanced by incorporating the insight that memory traces of strings that have been heard and produced are encoded more robustly than strings that have only been heard.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431-452
Number of pages22
JournalLanguage and Linguistics Compass
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language


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