LINGUIST List 14.2636

Tue Sep 30 2003

Disc: Re: Genetic clicks

Editor for this issue: Sarah Murray <>


  1. philip.carr, Re: 14.2595, Disc: Re: Genetic clicks

Message 1: Re: 14.2595, Disc: Re: Genetic clicks

Date: Mon, 29 Sep 2003 20:18:30 +0200
From: philip.carr <>
Subject: Re: 14.2595, Disc: Re: Genetic clicks

Dear All,

A brief remark on clicks, markedness and acquisition. Roger Lass
rightly notes that the mechanism is basically the sucking mechanism,
which is innately-endowed, so that makes it puzzling why clicks are so

Perhaps babbling is a factor here. To the best of my knowledge, clicks
aren't attested in babbling (even among children of click-producing
parents? It'd be nice to know if there were empirical evidence on
this, since ambient language influence is attested in babbling). This
is because, if MacNeilage (1998) is right, babbling is essentially
jaw-driven (rather than tongue-driven), the tongue not being much of
an active articulator during babble (which it has to be in clicks).

During the pre-babbling 'vocal play' period (4-7 months: Vihman 1996:
103), our first child (exposed to English and French, but no clicks)
repeatedly produced, not just an egressive uvular trill (as reported
by Vihman), but also a click. But there seems to be a discontinuity
between vocal play and babbling: neither the uvular trill nor the
click were integrated into his babbled syllables, even when babbled
syllables were interspresed with the production of vocal play sounds.

It appears that there is some continuity between babbling and first
words (contrary to what Jakobson thought: see Vihman et al 1985), but
a discontinuity between vocal play and babbling, even if the two
overlap for a certain time.

So, although Roger is right about the sucking mechanism, which is
innate, if first words rest on an articulatory foundation of babble
(rather than vocal play), then that's not enough to guarantee that
clicks will be natural for infants during the first word stage.

If you add that to what Mark is saying about poor integration of
clicks into the speech signal, perhaps this helps explain the marked
nature of clicks.

Phil Carr


MacNeilage, P. (1998) 'The frame/content theory of evolution of speech
production'. BBS 21/4: 499-546
Vihman, M.M. (1996) Phonological development. Blackwell
Vihman et al (1985) From Babbling to speech: a re-assessment of the
continuity issue. Language 61.2:397-452

Philip Carr
D�partement d'anglais
Universit� Paul Val�ry (UPV)
Route de Mende
34199 Montpellier

Equipe de Recherche en Syntaxe
et S�mantique (ERSS)
UMR 5610, CNRS,
Maison de la Recherche,
Universit� Toulouse-le-Mirail
31058 Toulouse
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