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A Longitudinal Case Study of Late Babble and Early Speech in Southern Mandarin

Xiaoxiang Chen 1

1Hunan University

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This paper studies the relation between canonical/variegated babble (CB/VB) and early speech in an infant acquiring Mandarin Chinese from 9 to 17 months. The infant was audio-and video-taped in her home almost every week. The data analyzed here come from 1,621 utterances extracted from 23 sessions ranging from 30 minutes to one hour, from age 00:09;07 to 01:05;27. The data was digitized, and segments from 23 sessions were transcribed in narrow IPA and coded for analysis. Babble was coded from age 00:09;07 to 01:00;00, and words were coded from 01:00;00 to 01:05;27, proto-words appeared at 11 months, and some babble was still present after 01:10;00. 3821 segments were counted in CB/VB utterances, plus the segments found in 899 word tokens. The data transcription was completed and checked by the author and was rechecked by two other researchers who majored in Chinese phonetics in order to ensure the reliability, we reached an agreement of 95.65%. Mandarin Chinese is phonetically very rich in consonants, especially affricates: it has aspirated and unaspirated stops in labial, alveolar, and velar places of articulation; affricates and fricatives in alveolar, retroflex, and palatal places; /f/; labial, alveolar, and velar nasals; a lateral;[h]; and labiovelar and palatal glides. In the child’s pre-speech phonetic repertoire, 7 different consonants and 10 vowels were transcribed at 00:09;07. By 00:10;16, the number of phones was more than doubled (17 consonants, 25 vowels), but the rate of increase slowed after 11 months of age. The phones from babbling remained active throughout the child’s early and subsequent speech. The rank order of the occurrence of the major class types for both CB and early speech was: stops, approximants, nasals, affricates, fricatives and lateral. As expected, unaspirated stops outnumbered aspirated stops, and front stops and nasals were more frequent than back sounds in both types of utterances. The fact that affricates outnumbered fricatives in the child’s late babble indicates the pre-speech influence of the ambient language. The analysis of the data also showed that: 1) the phonetic characteristics of CB/VB and early meaningful speech are extremely similar. The similarities of CB/VB and speech prove that the two are deeply related; 2) The infant has demonstrated similar preferences for certain types of sounds in the two stages; 3) The infant’s babbling was patterned at segmental level, and this regularity was similarly evident in the early speech of children. The three types being coronal plus front vowel; labial plus central and dorsal plus back vowel exhibited much overlap in the phonetic forms of CB/ VB and early speech. So the child’s CB/ VB at this stage already shared the basic architecture, composition and representation of early speech. The evidence of similarity between CB/VB and early speech leaves no doubt that phones present in CB/VB are indeed precursors to early speech.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.