The sociophonetic orientation of the language learner

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This paper is an effort to define the phonetic target of the language learner: what are the data that the child focuses on in becoming a native speaker? A number of studies are reviewed to show that children reject the idiosyncratic features of their parents’ phonetic system if they do not match the pattern of the larger speech community:  in the acquisition of the Philadelphia and New York City dialects;  the formation of a new dialect in Milton Keynes; the spread of the low back merger in eastern New England; the reduction of the future marker in Tok Pisin. The end result is a high degree of uniformity in both the categorical and variable aspects of language, where individual variation is reduced below the level of linguistic significance.


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