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Phonological characteristics of words young children try to say*

  • Wanda Dobrich (a1) and Hollis S. Scarborough (a2)


To examine the possible persistence of phonological selectional constraints on young children's lexical choices, the words attempted in the conversational speech of a longitudinal sample of 12 normally-developing preschoolers from age 2;0 to 5;0 were scored for syllabic length, presence of consonant clusters, and distribution of constituent phonemes. Except at the youngest ages, few developmental changes in target word characteristics were seen, and the observed differences were largely accounted for by syntactic, lexical, and pragmatic factors. The results suggest that selectional constraints persist only briefly in the course of language acquisition.


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14 Harrison Avenue, Montclair, NJ 07042, USA.


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This research was completed as a portion of the first author's doctoral dissertation at Rutgers University. Support for the collection of the data was provided by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to the second author. The authors are also grateful to S. Carroll and G. Laskaris for their assistance in coding and analysing the data, and to A. Walker-Andrews, V. Tartter, E. Labouvie, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the research.



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