Phonological acquisition and ambient language : a corpus based cross-linguistic exploration
This study explores the relationship between phonological acquisition and ambient language. By utilising corpora of spoken adult language(as an indicator of ambient language characteristics), an empirical rather than a theoretical approach is adopted for this research and through the development of a method of assessment (FUSE) it is proposed that a novel way of observing and illuminating this relationship can be made. The concept of FUSE aims to combine previous measures of functional load, which are system based, with the recognition of the relative usage of particular phonemes by speakers of the language to differentiate between words. The phonemic systems of the two historically unrelated languages of Finnish and English have been assessed and phonemic usage data compiled. Child data samples for five children over three ages of development for each of the languages have been likewise assessed so that the similarity in usage between adult and child data samples could then be compared. This study shows that the characteristics of the ambient language that the child needs to acquire varies for the two languages in terms of length of words (Finnish has longer words), the nature of syllables tructures and phonological usage. Finnish was also found to have less WI minimal pairs and make less use of word initial contrastive phonemes. The findings indicate that ambient language does have a role to play during the children's phonological development process. The children's usage closely reflected the adult language on both frequency and FUSE based assessments. The movement by the children towards their language specific goal was better indicated with the FUSE method of assessment than a purely frequency based assessment. When test crosslinguistically the FUSE results tend to suggest that the children, already at age 2 , are showing few universal tendencies of usage.