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Review of  Constraints in Phonological Acquisition

Reviewer: Piotr Glowacki
Book Title: Constraints in Phonological Acquisition
Book Author: René Kager Joseph V Pater Wim Zonneveld
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Phonology
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 16.432

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Date: Sat, 12 Feb 2005 00:25:03 +0100
From: Piotr Glowacki
Subject: Constraints in Phonological Acquisition

EDITORS: Kager, René; Pater, Joe; Zonneveld, Wim
TITLE: Constraints in Phonological Acquisition
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2004

Piotr Glowacki, Wroclaw University, Poland


This book is a collection of ten papers presenting a broad overview of
current issues in phonological acquisition, especially aiming at
considering them within the paradigms of Optimality Theory (OT). The
volume was inspired by the papers presented during the Third Biannual
Phonology Workshop organized by Rene Kager and Wim Zonneveld in June 1998
at the Research Department for Language and Speech of Utrecht University
(Chapters 5, 6 and 9). They are accompanied by other papers, written on
request. The volume is dedicated to the memory of Peter W. Jusczyk, who
was one of the contributors.


Chapter 1: 'Introduction: Constraints in phonological acquisition' by René
Kager, Joe Pater and Wim Zonneveld
This chapter falls into four main parts and a conclusion. The first part
presents an overview on previous research concerning the issues dealt with
in this book. It begins with presenting the theoretical background -
Jakobson's 'laws of irreversible solidarity' and Chomsky's concept of
Universal Grammar (UG). As an application, N. V. Smith's case study of his
son's language is presented (Smith 1973). Two issues are emphasized there,
as they are relevant in the context of current phonological theory
development: opaque rule interactions (resulting in counterfeeding rule
ordering) and the nature of the underlying representations in child
grammar. Exploration of the former topic leads to the explanation of
Chomsky and Halle's theory of markedness. Then Stampe's criticism of the
theory of markedness in the Natural Generative Phonology paradigm is
presented, supported by the comparison of Danish and Tamil coronals
behaviour. Yet another alternative view is presented, by Kiparsky and
Menn, who treat Jakobson's and Stampe's theories as 'rather deterministic'
and propose treating adult speech as a target at which a child aims in the
process of language acquisition. They also stress the usefulness of output
constraints. The focus now returns to Smith and his claim that child
grammar's underlying representation are mainly built of adult surface
forms, which is contrasted with Braine's 'partial perception hypothesis'
and Menn's 'two-lexicon model'. Finally, Chomsky's Principles and
Parameters Theory is presented on the example of Kaye's parametric theory
of syllable structure.

The second part serves as a brief tutorial on OT, introducing its main
concepts and notions, such as constraint ranking, Richness of the Base,
Freedom of Analysis, division of constraints into markedness constraints
and faithfulness constraints, Lexicon Optimization or Correspondence
Theory. There is also very brief but condensed comparison of OT with
classical Generative Phonology and Natural Phonology included, which I
assume is very relevant. Then two learnability theories are briefly
presented, Constraint Demotion Algorithm (CDA) by Tesar and Smolensky and
Gradual Learning Algorithm (GLA) by Boersma and Hayes.

The third and the fourth parts include summaries of the following chapters
grouped thematically.

Chapter 2: 'Saving the baby: Making sure that old data survive new
theories' by Lise Menn
The paper begins with the author's subjective opinion on what a successful
theory should be and how it should profit from the previous theories
managing (or not managing) to deal with some issues (part 1). In part 2
Menn analyses the ways in which output constraints were treated in
phonology throughout the last fifty years. We can encounter here the
theories of Stockwell, Jakobson (again), Jones (whose formalism Menn
calls 'an intuition-killer), Ingram, Smith's puzzle-puddle (again),
Menn's 'two-lexicon model' (again), Kisseberthian rule conspiracies
(again), Stampe's Natural Phonology (again) and Menn's own views on output
constraints throughout the years. She gives an exhaustive guide to the non-
OT bibliography on child phonology afterwards. Part 3 is a short
introduction to the role of OT in phonological acquisition, after which
(Part 4) Menn presents a 'Historical Annotated Inventory of Things We Know
About Child Phonology', where she attempts to state if fourteen problems
(which were highlighted before whilst presenting the history) can be dealt
with by means of OT, and if not, what is the cause. Finally Menn advises
that OT should not be made 'a Theory of Everything' and postulates having
several good partial models of language.

Chapter 3: 'Markedness and faithfulness constraints in child phonology' by
Amalia Gnanadesikan
This chapter is dealing with the analysis of a single child's grammar (the
author's daughter Gitanjali), focusing mainly on the examples of the
Emergence of the Unmarked. Gnanadesikan claims constraints are universal
and innate and at the beginning of acquisition all markedness constraints
outrank all faithfulness constraints and adopts Smith's (1973) view that a
child's inputs are somewhat similar to adult outputs. She then presents a
very brief outline of OT (again) and Correspondence Theory, and proceeds
to the analysis afterwards. First she focuses on Gitanjali's syllable
onsets, which cannot be longer than one consonant, and discusses how
Gitanjali narrows multiple-consonant input onsets to her one-consonant
output onsets. Gnanadesikan employs Universal Sonority Hierarchy here and
compares Gitanjali's case to Sanskrit's reduction of onset clusters in the
course of reduplication. Then she concentrates on Gitanjali's dummy
syllable 'fi-' and the effect it has on the onset of the following
syllable. The next part is concerned with the occurrence of coalescence
within the two phenomena presented earlier. Next comes the analysis of the
interaction of OCP (Obligatory Contour Principle - a constraint which
prohibits adjacent identical elements (Archangeli 1997:122)) with other
constraints regarding Gitanjali's syllable onsets. The paper finishes with
a very brief comparison of the results with standard rule-based theory and
the conclusion, which includes some remarks about the theories of Smith
and Stampe.

Chapter 4: 'Input elaboration, head faithfulness, and evidence for
representation in the acquisition of left-edge clusters in West Germanic'
by Heather Goad and Yvan Rose
The problem considered here is connected with the previous chapter; unlike
there, here it is not an analysis of one-child grammar. The authors claim
that the adult inputs are fully prosodified, and, whether children's
inputs are similar to adult ones or not, they reduce their onset clusters
following one of two patterns which the authors call 'sonority pattern'
and 'head pattern'. The data presented comes from a number of sources
concerning English, Dutch and German. Goad and Rose first analyse the
construction of onset clusters in those three languages (indicate the
difference between a branching onset and appendix + onset construction)
and then focus on different inputs in sonority pattern and head pattern.
The next step is presenting constraints which are going to be used in the
tableaux coming next. Then the alternative way of explaining this
phenomenon is discussed (constraint re-ranking instead of different
inputs) and rejected. A discussion concerning the need for having
constituent heads follows.

Chapter 5: 'Phonological acquisition in Optimality Theory: the early
stages' by Bruce Hayes
Hayes begins with a very short introduction describing his aim - to show
that current phonological theory can work very closely with the
experimental line of acquisition research. He then defines his view of
phonological acquisition as including 'the child's internalised conception
of the adult language' (p. 159). Presenting an overview of experiment
results (Eimas's 'feature detectors', Kuhl's 'perceptual magnet', Werker's
losses in phonetic abilities at the age of 10 months) serves as an
introduction to discussing the three kinds of phonological knowledge, as
described by OT (contrast, legal structures (phonotactics) and
alternations). Because the experiments show that the children first
acquire phonotactics and then learn alternations, Hayes addresses the
former problem first. The aim is to develop an algorithm which 'given
input data and constraint inventories, can locate appropriate constraint
rankings' and which leaves legal input forms unaltered, but alters illegal
input forms in the output. He starts with the explanation of Tesar and
Smolensky's Constraint Demotion Algorithm (CD) (Tesar and Smolensky 1993)
and its application to the data from Pseudo-Korean (a language similar to
Korean, but containing only vowels and stops contrasting for aspiration).
CD generates legal output from legal input, but it fails when it is fed
with illegal input. Hayes therefore presents his altered version of CD,
called Low Faithfulness CD, which performs much better on the same data.
Yet Low Faithfulness CD is not perfect, and its limitations are mentioned.
Then Hayes moves on to the learning of alternations. Basing his argument
on the strongly emphasized belief that phonology is conspirational, he
points out the importance of output-to -output correspondence and a
particular stage of children's acquisition when they are vulnerable to
dialect contamination.

Chapter 6: 'Syllable types in cross-linguistic and developmental grammars'
by Clara C. Levelt and Ruben van de Vijver
The authors begin with explaining their starting point and the theoretical
assumptions. Then they present Blevins's (1995) 'Syllable Type
Inventories' and four markedness constraints, which, along with one
unspecified faithfulness constraint, are used to build a factorial
typology of Blevins's syllables. This is compared with the learning path
which Dutch language learners take to acquire the most complex type of
Dutch syllable. Levelt and van de Vijver guide us then through the
learning paths and attempt to explain why these ways, and not the other,
were taken by the learners. They take into account, apart from typology,
also the frequency with which children hear particular syllables.

Chapter 7: 'Bridging the gap between receptive and productive development
with minimally violable constraints' by Joe Pater
The author's aim, exposed in the introductory section, is to employ OT to
shed some light on the differences between language perception and
production in children's grammar. He claims that a gap arises 'when the
perceptual representations are more marked than the representations
evinced in production' (p. 220). His solution is to employ a 'perception
specific faithfulness constraint'. The next section is devoted to
presenting and explaining briefly two experiments:
habituation/dishabituation procedure by Werker et al. (1998, 2000) and
Headturn Preference Procedure by Jusczyk et al. (1999). Then Pater takes a
part of the latter experiment and makes it example to illustrate his
theory. He labels the standard OT notions of 'input' and 'output' as 'S'
if it is a perceived surface form and 'L' if it is a stored lexical form,
and, depending on if it is perception or production, each 'S' and 'L' can
appear as either input or output. He also proposes Max(SL) and Max(LS)
constraints, which make use of the notions presented before. Section 4
compares Pater's model with other approaches - Smolensky's (1996),
Pater's 'mixed model' and 'dual lexicon model' by Menn and Mathei. Section
5 presents the conclusions.

Chapter 8: 'Learning phonotactic distributions' by Alan Prince and Bruce
This chapter is, similarly to Chapter 5, an attempt to improve Tesar and
Smolensky's Constraint Demotion Algorithm (CD). The focus of the
introductory section is set on the Subset Problem (Angluin 1980) - that a
learner using only positive evidence can make overgeneralizations apart
from errors - and the attempts of solving it. Then the authors discuss the
properties of the target grammar. Section 3 presents Recursive Constraint
Demotion algorithm (RCD) - Tesar's (1995) modification of Tesar and
Smolensky's (1993) CD. In the next section the authors propose modifying
RCD in such a way that it would prefer markedness to faithfulness
constraints, to make it more compatible with their position that the
Markedness >> Faithfulness relationship helps coping with the Subset
Problem. Their version is called Biased Constraint Demotion (BCD).
Sections 5 and 6 focus on further issues connected with BCD, namely
faithfulness gangs, markedness cascades, and subset relations between

Chapter 9: 'Emergence of Universal Grammar in foreign word adaptations' by
Shigeko Shinohara
Shinohara's aim is to show that Universal Grammar's unmarked patterns
arise in foreign word adaptations even if they contradict the native
constraint system. The author uses data obtained from Tokyo Japanese
speakers proficient in French. He analyses three main cases: assibilation
of the alveolar plosives, accentuation of loanwords from French and
English and problems with syllabification of loanwords into Japanese.

Chapter 10 'The initial and final states: theoretical implications and
experimental explorations of Richness of the Base' by Lisa Davidson, Peter
Jusczyk and Paul Smolensky
The paper includes two experiments: concerning the initial state of the
grammar (infant speech) and the final state (adult speech). The former
experiment tests the presence of the initial Markedness >> Faithfulness
ranking in infant grammar. The technique used is the Headturn Preference
Procedure and the data used is nasal assimilation in English. The latter
experiment examines the ability of English speakers to pronounce word-
initial consonants clusters which are not tolerated by English
phonotactics. The authors propose employing 'floating constraints' (e.g.
Reynolds 1994) and a new, almost-one-page-long, definition of Extended
Richness of the Base.

Chapter 11: 'Child word stress competence: an experimental approach' by
Wim Zonneveld and Dominique Nouveau
The authors examine the word stress competence of 3 and 4 year old
children by giving them existing and nonsense words to pronounce. These
tests are accompanied with basically the same tests performed on adults -
as a comparison. They divide the stress patterns into four types: regular
cases (A), exceptional cases (B), very irregular (C) and prohibited (P).
Then a VERY detailed analysis of the experiment results is presented using
OT framework, including even the NO-CLASH constraint, which has its roots
in Metrical Phonology (Liberman and Prince 1977).


Chapter 1 presents a strong, detailed historical description of the
studies on phonological acquisition. It is quite lucid, written in a
formal language (except for 'Smith's original hunch' p. 12), clearly
stating what each presented theory is concerned with and, in most cases,
supporting the description with some examples. The explanation of OT
begins with a note, which I assume is very helpful, indicating the books
where a reader can find general, but less brief, introductions to OT.

Chapter 2 is written in a less formal way than Chapter 1, using much less
formal language (e.g. "[W]hat kind of creature is the child such
that 'guck' may be easier than 'duck'" p.57). Menn presents her own views,
her own thoughts of other theories (e.g. calling Jones's formalism 'an
intuition-killer'), or even her own theory ('The term 'two lexicons' is
somewhat misleading' p. 57). Yet in my opinion it is the editors' task to
avoid repeating the same information in two different chapters. Menn says
at the beginning of her paper: '[W]hat I have been requested to do is to
provide a historical perspective on OT as a theory of phonological
development' (p. 55). Therefore I am wondering why the editors did the
same job again writing the first chapter. The only reason I can think of
is that Menn presented history in a subjective way and Kager et al. did it
rather objectively and in greater detail. However, I suppose that
repeating the same citation (Ch. 1, p.1 and Ch. 2, p. 59) should have been
dealt with by the editors.

Chapter 3 is a well-planned investigatory paper with much language data
and many tableaux. Gnanadesikan presents both the data and the conclusions
very clearly. Yet I find the definitions of constraints a little vague.
There is a short, concise introduction stating directly the author's views
and beliefs, including a brief 'outline of OT' (p. 18 and 75), with a
similar example tableau (p.19 and 75). I think that part 7, where
Gnanadesikan compares her results with standard rule-based theory could
have been discussed in greater detail.

Chapter 4 is written in a very scientific language. Once a reader gets
used to it, the understanding ceases to be a problem. Numerous tables and
charts (especially those dealing with the internal structure of onset
clusters) are very helpful. Constraints are defined very clearly and in
great detail.

Chapter 5 is in my opinion the most reader-friendly chapter in this book.
Hayes divides it into many parts and sub-parts, which make the paper very
lucid. The language is rather formal, but in my opinion the author has
some kind of gift which keeps the reader really awake during reading (and
it is not the first work by Hayes I have read). Hayes carefully explains
the reader what he is doing when and why. And thank him for note 6 ('For
reasons of space, I cannot provide a summary of OT' - p. 196)! Another
case of space limitations is carefully solved by directing the reader to
Hayes' own Web page, where one can find full descriptions of the
simulations which results are discussed here, software helping to conduct
such simulations, and, among others, this very paper (!).

Chapter 6 is my favourite. Concise, lucid and to the point from the very
beginning to the very end. Ezra Pound would be proud of it - almost every
word is necessary there! The authors do not worry to remind the reader
that they do not present The Only Truth ('One explanation [i]s that we do
not have enough acquisition data yet. Awaiting a larger study, an
alternative explanation is explored below' p. 212). In my opinion, this
paper is a masterpiece.

Chapter 7 is, in my opinion, not very clear. Pater seems to be talking
about several different topics at once, not linking them together well. It
may be so because the chapter is an altered version of ROA-296, 'From
phonological typology to the development of receptive and productive
phonological competence: Applications of minimal violation'. The main
difference between the papers is that the ROA version follows the Parse-
Fill theory, and the 2004 version employs Correspondence Theory. The text
has been changed very much, even by deleting some chapters and writing new
ones, yet some portions have been left unaltered. That makes the discourse
less comprehensible - for me the ROA version was much more informative and
easier to read.

Chapter 8 is very well-planned. The authors guide the reader through the
intricacies of learning algorithms. I especially liked presenting
algorithms in a 'generic pseudocode', which looks like a kind of
programming language (and has comments!). It helps to understand the
algorithm very much. The constraints used are explained very clearly and
three appendices show additional problems and further research areas.

Chapter 9 presents a fair argument. Shinohara has much data and shows many
examples to the reader. He delivers a strong theoretical basis for his
research as well. In my opinion the problem he touches is extremely
interesting, especially when one has ever tried to talk with a Japanese
person in English.

Chapter 10 touches the very core of OT and sheds some new light on the
understanding of the theory. With proposing the new definition of Richness
of the Base, the authors claim all work done under standard Richness of
the base 'to be the study of base grammars, which are determined by the
inventory of native forms' (p. 341). Yet I have some doubts if using
Headturn Preference Procedure is really a good measuring device for
infants. In note 4 the authors inform us that "[a]dditional infants [...]
were tested but not included for reasons of excessive fussiness or crying,
parental interference" (my emphasis). It means that for experiment 5 only
16 from 30 results were included! However, the question we should ask is
WHY the children failed to orient properly. There are many other factors
that can distract the children and alter the results significantly - even
a child's own hand. The results obtained using this method do not persuade
me. Having analysed the results of the experiments I conclude that they
provide too weak a basis for any conclusions. Mean looking times do not
differ much; moreover, if we look at Standard Deviation, we can see that
the results overlap in the worst case! The number of children tested (16)
was too small in my opinion, and the experiment should be redone and the
results compared.

Chapter 11 utilises the experimental results to the maximum. The analysis
is very detailed, yet all the time clear. The experiment itself was very
simple, easy to perform and did not need elaborate machinery, hence the
results should be quite reliable. The authors present their reasoning in a
lucid, 'user-friendly' way. It is a wonderful dessert at the end of the


The book is very well produced, there are only a few typos (I found four)
and after days of intensive reading it is still in one piece. The topics
of chapters partially overlap, which makes the book more coherent;
however, it causes repetition, most clearly visible in the chapters 1 and
2. The book was in preparation for a very long time - that is why most of
the papers were written in the last century (but fortunately revised
recently). Not all papers benefited from revision - Chapter 7 was much
more comprehensible in the earlier version, which I found on the Web - as
well as all but two chapters (Ch. 2 and Ch. 11) - very easily and for
free. Most of Web versions differ from their book variants only very
slightly (except Ch. 7). 'Constraints in Phonological Acquisition' follow
the trend in the current phonological literature of publishing in print
older papers which most phonologists have read and know, but which have
never been published in print before.


Angluin, D. (1980). Inductive inference of formal languages from positive
data. Information and Control 45. 117-135.

Archangeli, D. and D. T. Langendoen (eds.) (1997). Optimality Theory: an
Overview. Oxford: Blackwell.

Blevins, J. (1995). The syllable in phonological theory. In: Goldsmith, J.
(ed.) The Handbook of Phonological Theory. Oxford: Blackwell.

Jusczyk, P., D. Houston, and M. Newsome (1999). The beginnings of word
segmentation in English-learning infants. Cognitive Psychology 39. 159-207.

Reynolds, W. (1994). Variation and Phonological Theory. Ph.D.
dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.

Smith, N. V. (1973). The Acquisition of Phonology: a Case Study.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smolensky, P. (1996). On the comprehension/production dilemma in child
language. [ROA-118,].

Tesar, B. (1995). Computational Optimality Theory. Ph.D. dissertation,
University of Colorado, Boulder. [ROA-90,].

Tesar, B. and P. Smolensky (1993). The learnability in Optimality Theory:
An algorithm and some basic complexity results. [ROA-2,]

Werker, J., L. Cohen, V. Lloyd, M. Casasola and C. Stager (1998).
Acquisition of word-object associations by 14-month old infants.
Developmental Psychology 34. 1289-1309.


Piotr Glowacki is an MA student at English Philology Institute, Wroclaw
University. His research interests include phonetics and phonology,
especially acoustic phonetics and Optimality Theory. He is currently
writing his MA thesis focusing on Optimality Theory.

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