Acquistion of syllable structure in Spanish

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This paper examines the emergence and gradual spreading of syllable structures in Spanish from the perspective of Optimality Theory. Data from five children of the CHILDES project is analyzed and it is found that the different syllabic structures emerge in a consistent pattern that describes four stages (1) V, CV, (2) VC, CVC, (3) CGV, CGVC, and (4) CCV. The descriptive analysis also points out that this process of acquisition is gradual and that the frequency of syllable structures in the ambient language influences the order of acquisition. For instance, onsetless syllables in the first stage instead of a period of CV-only syllables can be justified in Spanish by taking into account the frequency of these types of syllables in the adult model. The formal analysis is presented in two sections. One discusses the Constraint Demotion Algorithm according to which acquisition can be captured through constraint demotion. The fact that the Constraint Demotion Algorithm cannot account for the progression from emergence to acquisition, as well as the fact that there is variation during the same stage in general and in the same individual producing different outputs, is a weakness of the Constraint Demotion Algorithm and motivates proposing a new alternative analysis using the Gradual Algorithm Constraint. This model results in a better account not only of the gradual process of learning, but also the individual variation of the same individual in a given stage.


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