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LINGUIST List 25.701

Tue Feb 11 2014

Diss: French, Phonology, Language Acquisition: Andreassen: 'Schwa: Distribution and acquisition ...'

Editor for this issue: Xiyan Wang <xiyanlinguistlist.org>

Date: 10-Feb-2014
From: Helene Andreassen <helene.n.andreassenuit.no>
Subject: Schwa: Distribution and acquisition in light of Swiss French data
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Institution: UiT The Arctic University of Norway
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2013

Author: Helene N. Andreassen

Dissertation Title: Schwa: Distribution and acquisition in light of Swiss French data

Dissertation URL: http://munin.uit.no/handle/10037/5193

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): French (fra)

Dissertation Director:
Chantal Lyche

Dissertation Abstract:

In adult French phonology, schwa is a separate vowel category that either
deletes or merges with /œ/ in the output. This thesis revolves around the
distribution, categorisation and acquisition of schwa. We test two main
hypotheses on the basis of Swiss French adult and child data: one, that
schwa does not constitute a separate category in early child language, and
two, that the acquisition of schwa alternation, consonant sequencing and
the reduction of non-prominent syllables are intertwined.

The analysis of inter-adult judgement and production data shows that the
distribution of schwa and /œ/ is near complementary. The implication for
the language acquisition process is that there are few indications in the
input that output [œ] needs to be split into two categories. The analysis
of child-directed speech shows that the rate of schwa alternation is lower
compared to inter-adult speech. The implication for the language
acquisition process is that the categorical distinction between schwa and
/œ/ is blurred in the child’s input.

The analysis of spontaneous and semi-controlled child language data shows
that children in all ages, from 2;03 to 3;05, prefer the output variant
with schwa. Schwa alternation in spontaneous speech is rare, even in
children who master consonant sequencing and syllable reduction. As for
children who do not master these aspects of phonology, no spontaneous
alternation is attested. In a semi-controlled setting, where the child is
exposed to the variant without schwa, the older children, who master
consonant sequencing and syllable deletion, are sensitive to the input and
produce the variant without schwa. As for the children who do not master
these aspects, sensitivity to the input is low. However, in the rare cases
where they do show sensitivity, they modify the target form in conformity
with their current grammar.

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