Munson colloquium abstract

Within-category variation in phonological acquisition: language specificity, perceptual bias, and alternatives to transcription
 
Much of our understanding of phonological acquisition rests on the results of phonetic transcription of children's speech. There is growing consensus that phonetic transcription alone does not capture the full range of phonetic detail that is relevant for phonological acquisition. This talk presents the results of recent studies that call into question whether a full picture of phonological development can be gained from phonetically transcribed speech alone. The first study shows that English- and Japanese-speaking adults' language-specific perception of children's /s/ productions accounts in part for the cross-linguistic differences in the order of acquisition of /s/ and its postalveolar counterpart (/S/ in English, /c{/ in Japanese). The second study shows that adults' perception of children's /s/ productions can be biased experimentally when they are led to believe that the child who produced it was either younger or older. Together, these two studies suggest that phonetic transcription alone is likely to mis-characterize phonological development within and across languages. The third study shows that adults are able to perceive fine phonetic detail within children's speech when given responding with a continuous scale, and is thus a viable alternative to phonetic transcription. Implications for practice will be discussed.