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The changing status of ‘filler syllables’ on the way to grammatical morphemes



The appearance of ‘filler syllables’ (called here PAEs, for Prefixed Additional Elements) in the late single-word period is analysed in relation to the emergence of grammatical morphemes, by confronting data from the longitudinal study of one child acquiring French, video- recorded between 1;3.2 and 2;2.6, with four hypotheses making different claims about the kind of language knowledge underlying their production: the DEVICES TO LENGTHEN SINGLE-WORD UTTERANCES, the SYNTACTIC SLOTS, the SELECTIVITY OF OCCURRENCE, and the ORGANIZATION OF SURFACE REGULARITIES hypotheses. The pattern of results concerning the first two to three months' production of PAEs points to the existence of a premorphological period in which PAEs result from the organization of phonoprosodic regularities of the language rather than being constrained by structural rules relative to syntactic slots or to the class of the word they precede. This premorphological period is followed by a protomorphological one in which incipient properties of grammatical morphemes and of word classes start to appear at the same time.


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Address for correspondence: E. Veneziano, Laboratoire Cognition et Communication, Université Paris V-CNRS, 46, Rue St. Jacques, 75005 Paris, France. e-mail:


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This research was supported in part by the Fonds national suisse de la recherche scientifique (grants no. 11.30927-91 and no. 11.37304-93 to E. Veneziano and H. Sinclair).We would like to thank Ann Peters for very helpful and detailed suggestions on a previous version of this paper as well as for continuous encouragement. Thanks also to Lise Menn for constructive questions and remarks.The present revision of an earlier version of this paper has been delayed by the passing away of Hermine Sinclair. The revision was finally carried out by the first author who greatly missed her precious collaboration and takes on herself full responsibility for the changes undertaken. Hermine Sinclair was a remarkable scholar who could look over the field of developmental psycholinguistics from the vantage point of her double training, in linguistics and in psychology, and from that of her profound knowledge of Piagetian constructivism. This paper greatly benefited from her wide expertise and interdisciplinary interests. Her ability to spot the relevance in children's behaviours, to establish links among non-obviously related facts and theoretical notions, and her enthusiasm and generosity in sharing her discoveries with others all contributed to render Mimi Sinclair a uniquely vivid and deeply inspiring teacher, researcher and collaborator.


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The changing status of ‘filler syllables’ on the way to grammatical morphemes



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