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Subject: Greek Babbling
Question: When infants begin babbling, the first sounds after vowels are usually
the stops. First of those are the labials. Because they are very
productive in world languages, [b], [p], and [d] are usually the first. In
Greek, [b] and [d] are infrequent phones. In fact, there are no letters
for these phones; instead, combinations are made: μπ for [b] and ντ
for [d]. Does this mean, then, that Greek babies, when they begin
babbling, do not begin with the sounds [b] and [d]? And if they do, is
that just further proof that much of language acquisition is innate and
there is some sort of Universal Grammar?

Reply: See Dr Cruz-Ferreira's response about child language acquisition.

To her response I would add that the spelling is not as significant as it first appears. I
assume from your comment about μπ for [b] and ντ for [d] that you are referring to
Modern Greek.

This spelling is actually a result of a sound change from Ancient Greek to Modern
Greek. In earlier stages of Greek "μπ" was the cluster [mp] and "ντ" was [nt] That stage
of Greek also did have /b/ which is was spelled as "β" and /d/ which was the letter "δ".
But in Modern Greek β and δ are now [v] and [ð].

In other words, some of the Greek consonants underwent a series of sound shifts, one
of which was [mp,nt] --> [b,d], but the spelling of the letters was not updated to
reflect the new sound changes. This is common in languages with a long written

Note though that BOTH stages of Greek maintain a phoneme for [b,d]. While these
sounds are not the least marked, they are common in many world languages. It's often
the case that if a language loses a relative common sound due to a phonological sound
change, a second sound change may reintroduce the sound.

All of this tends to be consistent with child language acquisition order.

Hope this makes sense.

Reply From: Elizabeth J Pyatt      click here to access email
Date: 31-Oct-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Greek Babbling    Madalena Cruz-Ferreira     (31-Oct-2012)
  2. Re: Greek Babbling    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (01-Nov-2012)
  3. Re: Greek Babbling    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (31-Oct-2012)
  4. Re: Greek Babbling    James L Fidelholtz     (01-Nov-2012)

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