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Review of  Phonological Templates in Development

Reviewer: Leah R. Paltiel-Gedalyovich
Book Title: Phonological Templates in Development
Book Author: Marilyn May Vihman
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 31.3275

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This book addressed the issues related to children developing a system or template for speech. Chapter 1 ''Perspectives on phonological development'' provides a historical overview of the development of the authors' approach to phonological developments, including DST (Dynamic Systems Theory) and exemplar theory as they pertain to phonology. In addition, the use of terms which will recur throughout the book is explained. These include, for example: ''prosodic structure'', ''template'', ''vocal motor schemes'', ''articulatory filter'', ''lexical configuration'' and ''lexical engagement''. First word learning is influenced by communicative factors but also by the child's own productive articulatory skills. Chapter 2 ''Whole word phonology'' gives an historical and theoretical overview of this approach, which is adapted in the template approach to phonology. The interface between phonology and lexicon in children's early word productions is expanded.

The following three chapters bring evidence in support of phonological templates in children acquiring a variety of languages. In Chapter 3 ''Building the evidence'', Vihman begins to present the evidence supporting the template approach. Templates are observed when the child is producing between 30-50 words and 200 words. (Word acquisition stage is more critical here than age, although the author points out that the current data comes from children with early rapidly expanding vocabularies.) This chapter also includes the procedures and criteria for analysis of the individual, idiosyncratic templates of children's early words. Although there is a great emphasis on the individual templates (or lack thereof) of each child, the chapter does end with a summary of expected templates for children acquiring American English. Chapter 4 ''First words and prosodic structures'', subtitled ''a cross-linguistic perspective'', continues the presentation of data, drawing on findings from a variety of languages. This chapter also examines the question of universal versus language specific trends. The author points out similarities between the various languages, for instance in length of first words as measured by number of syllables. Furthermore, the data support a close relationship between forms practised in babbling and forms appearing in early words. Similarly, preferences for certain word shapes appear following practise with first words, and not before. This chapter is rich in data, allowing the reader to follow closely the analysis process. Two developmental patterns can be identified: children who primarily select words which fit their phonological templates (and abilities) and children who primarily adapt the words they attempt to their phonological templates (and abilities). Chapter 5 ''Phonological templates in development'' brings further cross-linguistic evidence for templates in children's early phonology. A reference to one of the children studied as a ''transitional late talker'' provides a first insight into the application of the template theory to phonological development in children showing some sort of speech-language delay or disorder. The relationship between the development of the phonetic inventory, and consonant variegation, and the development of templates (the phonological development) is pointed out for a number of the children studied. The analysis of the speech of bi-lingual children suggest that the analysis of the templates of the two languages can clarify the relationship between the phonological development of those languages.

(A small point, I question use of IPA symbol for uvular fricative instead of the symbol for uvular trill, p.141. In fact the use of IPA symbols is not completely consistent throughout the text, possibly the result of diverse origins of the data.

Furthermore, a problem is raised when the deletion of the onset in one word, as opposed to another word of the same template occurs with no apparent reason. This may be the child's aim not to have an identical sound sequence represent two referents. The example given is: Nicola (Italian) ''carne'' (meat) [ane] ''cane'' (dog) [kane].p.151)

Chapter 6 ''Issues around child templates'' is subtitled ''Timing, fading, quantification and function'' and further explores these aspects of templates. Data is brought from children speaking a variety of languages. Questions of the prevalence of template use and role are addressed as well as the relationship to lexical development and developmental stage.

The next two chapters compare the use of templates in child and adult language and the relationship between them. Chapter 7 ''Relation of child to adult template, I'' is subtitled ''Parallels in core grammar''. In accordance with Dynamic Systems Theory, both possibilities of continuity and discontinuity are acceptable. This chapter focusses on templates in adult language' bringing examples from a number of languages from a variety of language families. For instance, adult Arabic requires a ''prosodic output shape'' at a separate level from the internal phonological syllable and word structure. This ''prosodic output shape'' is paralleled to children's phonological templates. The children's templates differ in that templates allow non-standard prosodic units. The description of the ''templates'' for these adult languages show complex morpho-phonology as there are distinctive recognizable patterns for different morphemes. Processes of metathesis and consonant harmony are seen in these adult forms as they are in children's templates. It is preferred to find a prosodically defined template without segmental specification, but often such specification is required. Parallels are found between the selection and adaptation processes found in child phonology and morpho-phonological derivation in adult phonology. The template is prosodic and not segmental. Reduplication, seen also in child phonology, is a common process in adult phonologies, where partial reduplication can possibly explained as an historical erosion process. In adult phonology, templates do not appear to be productive in many cases. For children, templates will be purely phonological while for adults they are morphophonological. Prosodic phonology appears to provide an appropriate theoretical framework but there are problems with accounts of universality. Importantly, templates function at the whole word level.

Chapter 8, ''Relation to adult templates, II'', subtitled ''Language at play'' further investigates the relationship between child and adult phonological templates. By examining novel adult forms the author aims to shed light on children's developing (novel) forms. The emphasis is on output, not process. Prosodic phonology accounts for shortened forms in French by having a predicted well-formed output which conforms to possible syllable structures in French. An analysis of the data supports a lexical basis as opposed to a morphological basis, since while output is predictable, input is variable. The purpose of child template is production of an adult target, for the adult the aim is ease of production (often with an aim to change the register or show affinity to a certain cultural group). Data from novel and non-novel rhyming in different languages is brought. In these word pairs, there is a predominance of labial consonants. Vihman adapts Ronnenberger-Sibold's explanation that shortenings aim to produce lexical forms ''that are 'short', 'easy' and 'distinctive''' (p.258). Parallels are drawn between adult and child templates: both ''select'' familiar patterns and ''adapt new forms to fit familiar patterns, both aim for recognizable, highly used prosodic output, both may use affixed segment in the template (in a non-initial syllable). Much is in common in the context of ''playing with language'' and communication as a clearer aim that literal meaning.

Chapter 9 concludes the book. Three stages in early lexical development are posited, templates being most visible in the second stage. The theoretical foundations of the template theory—dynamic systems theory, articulation as a complex motor activity, and the role of memory—are reviewed. An integrated view of lexical and phonological development stands out. The approach does not integrate a grammatical or constraint based view of phonology. (Other theorists who do suggest interactions between connectionist time and constraint type theories are described and the aspects that distinguish Vihman's template theory are outlined). Importance is given to the role of social communication in lexical and phonological development. No distinction is made between competence and performance.


There are two stated goals of this book. The first is an investigation of the concept of phonological templates in children based on cross-linguistic data. The second is relating developmental phonological data, specifically prosodic data, to adult data
(p. 35).

There is no introduction, as such, to the text. This made it more difficult to put the ideas into context and made comprehension more difficult, although the ideas themselves were clearly expressed. In Chapter 2, there is a fascinating and clearly developed description of the development of whole word phonology. I felt a lack of a clear statement of Vihmen's current theory and how it is distinct from other theories described. In Chapter 3, the practical guidelines for analysing phonological templates in children's speech are given clearly enough to allow the reader to apply the procedures to a novel phonological corpus. The procedures are clearly illustrated by application to six children developing American English. From this chapter on the text is dense with data from a large variety of different languages and language families. At times examples of words are presented with the transcription of the children's productions, but not always. Nevertheless, the great quantity of data used to support the idea of phonological templates provides a convincing argument for their existence.

The theoretical orientation is DST (Dynamic Systems Theory) and in this way phonological behaviour is seen as one instance of human (motor) activity.

The idea behind templates is reminiscent of the approach of PHB (Phonology as Human Behavior, e.g. Tobin, 1997). In terms of PHB, phonological behaviour reflects the tension between the 'communicative factor', which aims for a precise signal and the 'human factor' , which aims to reduce the (motor) effort of producing that signal. Child phonologies reflect the dominance of the human factor. In terms of templates, the child develops an 'easy' pattern, then selects words fitting this pattern and adapts new words to fit this pattern.

Furthermore, the idea of the speaker selecting a behavioural alternative from a set of possible alternatives, brings to mind the selection process as described in OT (Optimality Theory -There is a very brief reference to OT in the text.)

Throughout the text, there is an emphasis on looking at how an individual learns phonology – therefore, small group studies are used where individual differences are seen, as opposed to large scale studies where group tendencies are emphasized.

As a speech-language clinician, I am especially interested in possible application of phonological templates to assessment and treatment of phonological disorders. In terms of assessing the typicality of a child's phonological development, the wide individual differences observed, ranging both in terms of use of templates (from no use to widespread use) and the ages when they appear, prevents the observance of templates as being indicative of typical/atypical phonological development. Template use has been linked to stage of lexical development as opposed to chronological age, but here too, wide individual differences have been observed.

Nonetheless, the idea of templates may be useful both in understanding and in treatment. The possibility arises of analysing a child's speech for templates and the working on expanding vocabulary deliberately through selecting lexical items suited to the template or lexical items easily adapted to the template. The interface between phonetics, phonology and lexicon support clinical approaches such as the ''core vocabulary approach'' (Dodd, Crosbie and Holm, 2004) and DTTC (Dynamic Tactile Temporal Cuing, e.g. Strand, Stoeckel and Bass, 2006), while the idea of templates can help guide selection of vocabulary items.

The idea that children choose their early vocabularies according to their phonetic and phonological abilities appears to support the traditional clinical approach of treating sounds. Traditionally, sounds (and sound patterns) which can be stimulated and sounds (and sound patterns) appearing in some contexts are treated before others (eg as described in Van Riper, 1939). This is consistent with the spontaneous use of templates which guide the choice of lexical items to be added to a child's expanding vocabulary.

The question arises, in therapy should efforts be directed to expanding vocabulary within the templates in use? Or, should an effort be made to teach children new templates and choose new vocabulary items which exemplify and allow practise of these new templates?

In sum, I found Vihman's ''Phonological Templates in Development'' interesting and challenging. The theory is well supported with data and suggests a different way to look at children's early phonological and lexical development. The text is suitable for advanced students of phonology, phonologists and speech-language pathologists.


Dodd, Barbara, S. Crosbie and A. Holm. 2004. ''Core vocabulary therapy: An intervention for childen with inconsistent speech disorders. Brisbane, Australia: Perinatal Research Centre, Royal Brisbane & Women's Hospital, University of Queensland.

Strand, Elisabeth A., R. Stoeckel and B. Bass. 2006. ''Treatment of seere childhood apraxia of speech: A treatment efficacy study.'' Journal of Medical Speech-Language Pathology, 14 (297-307)

Tobin, Yishai. 1997. ''Phonology as human behavior'' Chapter 2 in Tobin, Y. ''Phonology as human behavior''. Duke University Press.

Van Riper, Charles. 1972. ''Speech correction: Principles and methods.'' (5th ed) Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
I am a practising speech-language pathologist, with over thirty years experience in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of disorders, including Speech Sound Disorders. I currently teach courses in typical and atypical phonetics and phonology in the Communication Disorders Department of Achva Academic College. My research interests include clinical applications of theoretical linguistics, especially the semantic-pragmatic interface as well as typical and atypical speech-language development.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780198793564
Pages: 384
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