Variable forms in French-learning toddlers' lexical representations

Dev Psychol. 2021 Apr;57(4):457-470. doi: 10.1037/dev0001157. Epub 2021 Mar 4.


We investigated toddlers' phonological representations of common vowel-initial words that can take on multiple surface forms in the input. In French, liaison consonants are inserted and are syllabified as onsets in subsequent vowel-initial words, for example, petit /t/ éléphant [little elephant]. We aimed to better understand the impact on children's early lexical representations of this frequent intrusion by consonants by testing whether toddlers store multiple forms for vowel-initial words (e.g., téléphant, zéléphant) early in acquisition. Thirty-one Quebec French-learning 30-month-olds completed an eye-tracking experiment (16 girls). Children were predominantly from White, middle-class families living in a large urban area (Montreal). Each trial presented two objects while one of them was named. There were four key trial types: (a) correct vowel-initial (e.g., joli éléphant [pretty elephant]); (b) pragmatically incorrect frequent intrusion (e.g., joli zéléphant, /z/ intrusion [pretty elephants], which is grammatically acceptable but does not correspond to the picture); (c) lexically incorrect frequent intrusion (e.g., joli téléphant, /t/ intrusion, as /t/ is a frequent liaison consonant in general but is impossible with joli); (d) lexically incorrect infrequent intrusion (e.g., joli géléphant, /g/ intrusion, as /g/ is an infrequent liaison consonant and is also impossible with joli). The results showed that target recognition was successful in the frequent /t/- and /z/-intrusion trials and was also evident in the vowel-initial trials, whereas it was impeded in the infrequent /g/-intrusion trials. Our findings demonstrate that French-learning children's early lexicon contains multiple variants for words that are subject to phonological alternations, including frequent liaison-consonant variants. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • France
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Phonetics*
  • Quebec
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Speech Perception*