The Acquisiton of Word-final Clusters in French

Katherine Demuth, Margaret Kehoe


The structure of French syllables has long been controversial, particularly with respect to the status of word-final consonants. Some researchers suggest that word-final consonants are syllabified as codas, whereas others propose that these are onsets of empty-headed syllables. This raises questions regarding the nature of syllabic representations in children’s developing French, a topic that has received little attention. This study examines 2-year-olds’ elicited productions of word-final obstruent-liquid (OL) clusters, and compares these with the acquisition of word-initial OL clusters. The acquisition of singleton word-final consonants is also discussed. Although word-final clusters are acquired later than both word-initial clusters and word-final singletons, the error patterns are the same, with earlier acquisition and preservation of obstruents. A few children exhibit final vowel epenthesis, raising the possibility that some French-speaking children may syllabify word-final consonants as onsets. The paper concludes with a discussion of the crosslinguistic implications of these findings, identifying several areas for further research.


phonological acquisition, syllable structure, clusters

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Copyright (c) 2006 Katherine Demuth, Margaret Kehoe