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Intuitive syllabification: universals and language specific constraints*

  • Steven Gillis (a1) and Georges De Schutter (a1)


Intuitive syllabifications of 50 five- and six- and 50 eight-year-old children are studied in an experimental setting. The children syllabified Dutch disyllabic words with a single intervocalic consonant that were presented orally to them. The aim was to find out if these syllabifications adhered to the universal principles of syllable structure and if the children's syllabifications witnessed an overruling of the universal phonological constraints by language specific ones. Results indicate that universal principles are sufficient to explain syllabifications. Except for obligatory onset formation, other principles act as soft constraints that are influenced by factors such as stress and vowel and consonant quality. A language specific constraint proposed in the phonological literature, namely bimoraic minimality, is hypothesized to be a result of children's familiarization with the spelling conventions.


Corresponding author

University of Antwerp – UIA, Department of Linguistics – GER, Center for Dutch Language and Speech, Universiteitsplein 1, B-2610 Wilrijk, Belgium (e-mail:


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We thank our subjects and their teachers for their patient co-operation. Thanks are also due to R. Hertsens, L. Looijschelder, B. Loots and C. Racquet for their assistance in the data collection, and to A. De Houwer for critically reading the manuscript. This research was supported by a Research Grant of the Fund for Joint Basic Research (FKFO 2.0101.94) of the National Fund of Scientific Research (NFWO). S. Gillis is research associate of the NFWO.



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Intuitive syllabification: universals and language specific constraints*

  • Steven Gillis (a1) and Georges De Schutter (a1)


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