Ask-A-Linguist Message Details
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?
What babies are physically able to babble depends on their motor development, just like what babies are physically able to grasp with their fingers, or steady their gaze on. There are easily articulated sounds, phonetically, and less easily articulated ones, so no wonder babies start with the easy ones. These are sounds which typically correspond to gurgling and feeding movements of the articulators, for consonant sounds that you ask about.
This has little to do with the sounds/phonemes which linguists describe for particular languages, and less still with how people have chosen to *spell*, or not, the sounds of particular languages which their adult speakers pronounce, or not.
This has little to do with claims of grammatical “universals”, too, unless you also want to say that first lying flat, then sitting up, then standing up, then walking, then running are also part of one’s “universal” developmental “grammar”.
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