Tag Archives: acquisition

N. Hewlett (1990) Processes of development and production (Part 2)

Hewlett begins discussion of dual lexicon models with basic premise that, if children have accurate perception but inaccurate production, then “there is not just a single, modality-independent lexicon in which phonological representations are stored.” (p. 28) Hewlett lists several advantages to this basic framework. First, lexical avoidance (Schwartz & Leonard, 1982) is easily explained. Second, the “rules” like fronting and gliding that apply to child speech do not need to occur in real time. In many ways, this is helpful for explaining why the rules apply to environments, rather than to particular words. Exceptions abound, however! These exceptions include regressive idioms, where a child produces a word incorrectly even though similar words are generally produced correctly; and progressive idioms, where a child produces one word correctly when similar words are produced incorrectly. The problem with idioms is where Hewlett strikes out on his own, proposing a revised dual lexicon model.

It seems likely that reproducing the box-and-arrow model from the chapter would be a violation of copyright, so I will do my best to provide verbal descriptions for now. There are four four key boxes in the model (clockwise from upper left): the input lexicon, the output lexicon, a motor processor, and a motor programmer. The input lexicon is where incoming acoustic signals are matched to stored lexical items. Hewlett states explicitly that, “The input lexicon contains perceptual representations in terms of auditory-perceptual features.”

Realization rules link the input lexicon to the output lexicon, which contains articulatory representations. From there, an articulatory representation can be sent to the motor processor, where a motor plan is assembled using syllabic units. There is an alternative route, however, going through the motor programmer. If a realization rule does not exist, or if there is cause to eschew the realization rule, then the perceptual representation is sent to the motor programmer, where a motor representations is built from scratch. From there, it can either go directly to the motor processing component for implementation, or it can go to the output lexicon for storage, or probably both. Additional levels of production mechanism follow motor processing, including a segmental level of motor processing (which is acquired after the onset of speech), a motor execution level where muscle contractions are planned, and finally the signal sent to the vocal tract, representing the actual articulations.

How well does Hewlett’s model handle the data discussed in my last post? First, lexical avoidance is explained by postulating an entry in the input lexicon that has no corresponding motor plan (Hewlett is unclear here, but I think he means there is no corresponding entry in the output lexicon). Realization rules in which sound contrasts are neutralized (fronting, gliding, etc.) are the result of multiple input lexicon entries being mapped to the same output entry. Improvement in speech accuracy over time is handled by various forms of feedback, including the revision of output lexicon forms by passing input forms through the motor programmer.

There are many positive aspects of Hewlett’s model, and it does improve on the model proposed by Kiparsky and Menn (1977). However, the empirical coverage of the model is still quite limited. Here are a few examples. First, although Hewlett is careful to point out how important phonology is for explaining paradigmatic phonological rules, his model does not include a robust phonological grammar. The input and output lexicons are connected by an arrow, but this obscures what a difficult relationship this must be. How, for example, are output lexical items merged when they remain distinct in the input lexicon (e.g., when the words ‘rock’ and ‘walk’ are pronounced identically, or when /r/ and /w/ are pronounced identically, in general)? What mechanism is responsible for the merger? Notice that previous generative approaches are not helpful here because part of the challenge is to show how the input lexicon–including words like ‘rock’ and ‘walk’–links to the output lexicon–where ‘rock’ and ‘walk’ become merged. Grammars which do not split the lexicon into input and output components are therefore shielded from this problem. Progressive and regressive idioms are also unexplained by the single arrow between the input and output lexicons. The model has no way of explaining why some words might not follow an otherwise consistent grammatical pattern.

Second, how do articulatory representations develop? Consider who a child comes to produce their first word. Based on Hewlett’s model, we can reasonably assume that the child has an accurate perceptual representation of the word in their input lexicon. How is that word then matched up to any motor representation. Presumably, babbling plays some role in the developmental process, but this is not discussed outside of input from the motor programmer. We might look to work by Guenther to solve this problem (e.g., Guenther, 2006), but Hewlett leaves the process unspecified.

Finally, Lise Menn consistently mentions the important of explaining why speech accuracy improves during imitation, but Hewlett’s model is not specific enough to account for this fact.

Overall, Hewlett’s chapter provides an outstanding review of much of the work on child speech production and phonology up to 1990. His model offers several advances compared to similar models proposed by Menn (Kiparsky & Menn, 1977; Menn, 1983), but many facts about speech development remain unexplained.

N. Hewlett (1990) Processes of development and production (Part 1)

I’m following up on my review of Kiparsky and Menn (1977) with a review of Hewlett (1990), which extends the dual-lexicon model in several interesting ways, including a more detailed production component and an updated literature review. Unfortunately, the chapter is so long that it doesn’t really seem appropriate to review it all at once. In fact, this post will probably be too long. If you’d prefer shorter posts, let me know!



Hewlett reviews major findings in normal and disordered phonological/speech development, with the goal of motivating a model of early speech production building on previous work [1, 2]. The coverage in the manuscript is extensive, and the criticism is often very insightful. Below is a short description of the findings that Hewlett covers.

Hewlett begins his review with very early speech development, including babbling.* Babbled sounds are typically the same sounds in early words, and babbling usually overlaps with the first real word productions [3]. Relevant work not discussed by Hewlett include research from Boysson-Bardies and colleagues showing that babbling sounds are language dependent and even sounds that are common in babbling around the world often have language-specific phonetic characteristics [4, 5].

When word production begins in earnest, Hewlett argues that certain aspects of early speech are consistent. First, early ‘proto-words’ [6] are highly variable in their form. Thus, although the child’s production goal might be consistent—for example, they are always referring to ‘milk’—the form is entirely inconsistent. Second, early words are generally single words or unanalyzed phrases (the parts of the phrase don’t recombine).

Hewlett argues that a separate stage can be identified around 1;6 (years; months), which roughly corresponds to what is often called the ‘word spurt’. Hewlett further elaborates on phonological systematicity during early word production. Young children apply systematic patterns to their speech. These patterns might include consonant cluster reduction (‘snow’ is pronounced [no]), or application of a child-language-specific rewrite rule (/r/ à [w] word-initially and word-medially), or application of a prosodic template, such as a [CVjVC] template [7]. Hewlett writes, “The important implication of this is that the child’s pronunciation patterns exhibit regularities which yield to a systematic description within a phonological framework.” (p. 19) Thus, the enterprise of child phonology has been either to 1) describe the child’s phonological inventory, including contrasts and phonotactic restrictions, or 2) write rules that describe how children get from the adult form, which children are presumed to know based on their perceptual abilities. I will not go into great detail about these proposals, but Hewlett reviews well-known rules such as /r/ à [w]. Finally, although Hewlett discusses the issue later in the paper, this stage of phonological development includes many examples of ‘lexical avoidance’, or cases in which children avoid words with particular sounds [8].

At this point, Hewlett reviews models of phonological development, including proposals by Jakobson [9], Stampe [10], and Menn ([2]; the dual-lexicon model, also described in [1], which I reviewed in a previous posting). He then goes on to describe children’s perceptual abilities, which are generally agreed on to be quite good. And, of course, the explosion of the infant literature starting in the early 1990s confirms that infants are very good at learning linguistic/phonological patterns before they begin to speak.

As a sort of contrasting section to `phonological development’ as described above, Hewlett reviews `phonetic development’, in which he focuses on the measurement of speech production. Several findings are noteworthy. First, children’s speech is known to be more variable, including long durations for linguistic targets and greater variability. Regarding variability, recent work by my current mentor Lisa Goffman, and her collaborations with her mentor Anne Smith, have greatly added to our understanding of speech motor variability in children. Some examples: [11] showed that oral-motor stability is below adult levels even at 14 years of age. [12] showed that, contrary to what one might expect from a frequency-based explanation, native English speaking children and adults produce iambs with more stability compared to trochees.

Continuing with Hewlett’s discussion of phonetic development, children’s formants tend to be more variable than adult’s formants [13]. Hewlett discusses the issue of whether children show more or less coarticuation than adults. A number of researchers, Susan Nittrouer being one example [14], have claimed that children actually show greater amounts of coarticulation. The implication is that children have less segmentalized speech, and therefore their early speech consists of unanalyzed whole words. This claim has been hotly debated (or was hotly debated 20 years ago), but it appears that coarticulation is often just different in children [15], without there being either more or less coarticulation in child speech.

Hewlett also discusses the issue of `covert contrasts’ or `incomplete neutralization’—cases where children appear to be producing two sounds the same but are actually producing them distinctly. For example, both /r/ and /w/ might be realized as something like a [w], but in fact, the productions are distinct, and children can reliably identify which word they intended from their own productions [16]. Elsewhere, I have argued that this is a systemic problem with analyses of child phonology. Because so much of the literature on `phonological processes’ in child speech is based on transcription data, it is unclear whether these cases reflect phonological processes or covert contrasts (in which case, `phonological’ must mean something entirely different than what it is usually taken to mean).

Hewlett concludes his review of phonetic development with three findings. First, sounds that appear in babbling may disappear from a child’s sound inventory after the onset of word production. Second, although adults are very good at compensating for a bite block and hitting acoustic targets, children may be less good at this [17]. Third, Hewlett notes that children seem readily able to acquire a foreign accent as well as a foreign language (although some more recent work [18] suggests that accent acquisition generally falls on a continuum based on age of acquisition). Regarding the last two findings, Hewlett concludes that children must be better than adults at learning to produce new sounds.


[1] Kiparsky, P. & Menn, L. (1977). On the acquisition of phonology. In Language Learning and Thought, J. Macnamara (Ed.). New York: Academic Press.

[2] Menn, L. (1983). Development of articulatory, phonetic, and phonological capabilities In Language Production, Vol II, B Butterworth (Ed.). London: Academic Press

[3] Locke, J. L. (1983). Phonological Acquisition and Change. New York: Academic Press.

[4] Boysson-Bardies, B. d., Halle, P., Sagart, L., & Durand, C. (1989). A crosslinguistic investigation of vowel formants in babbling. Journal of Child Language, 16(1), 1-17.

[5] Boysson-Bardies, B. d., & Vihman, M. M. (1991). Adaptation to language: Evidence from babbling and first words in four languages. Language, 67(2), 297-319.

[6] Menyuk P. & Menn, L. (1979). Early strategies for the perception and production of words and sounds. In Language Acquisition, P. Fletcher, M. Garman (Eds.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 49-70.

[7] Priestly, T. M. S. (1977). One idiosyncratic strategy in the acquisition of phonology. Journal of Child Language, 4, 45-66.

[8] Schwartz, R. G., & Leonard, L. B. (1982). Do children pick and choose? An examination of phonological selection and avoidance in early lexical acquisition. Journal of Child Language, 9, 319-336.

[9] Jakobson, R. (1968). Child Language, Aphasia and Phonological Universals. The Hague: Mouton.

[10] Stampe, D. (1969). The acquisition of phonetic representation. Papers from the 5th Rebional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society, 443-454.

[11] Smith, A. & Zelaznik, H. (2004) Development of functional synergies for speech motor coordination in childhood and adolescence. Developmental Psychobiology, 45, 22-33.

[12] Goffman, L. (1999). Prosodic influences on speech production in children with specific language impairment and speech deficits: Kinematic, transcription, and acoustic evidence. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 42, 1499-1517.

[13] Eguchi, S. & Hirsch, I. (1969). Development of speech sounds in children. Acta Otolaryngology Supplement, 257.

[14] Nittrouer, S., Studdert-Kennedy, M., & McGowan, R. S. (1989). The emergence of phonetic segments: Evidence from the spectral structure of fricative-vowel syllables spoken by children and adults. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 32, 120-132.

[15] Goodell, E. W. & Studdert-Kennedy, M. (1993). Acoustic evidence for the development of gestural coordination in the speech of 2-year-olds: A longitudinal study. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 36, 707-727.

[16] Kornfeld, J. R., & Goehl. (1974). A new twist to an old observation: Kids know more than they say. Chicago, IL: Chicago Linguistic Society.

[17] Oller, D. K. & MacNeilage, P. F. (1983). Development of speech production: Perspectives from natural and perturbed speech. In The Production of Speeech, P. F. MacNeilage (Ed.). New York: Springer Verlag, pp. 91-108.

[18] Flege, J. E., Munro, M. J. & MacKay, I. (1995). Factors affecting degree of perceived foreign accent in a second language, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 97, 3125-3134.