The development of voiceless sibilant fricatives in Putonghua-speaking children

Fangfang Li, Benjamin Munson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Purpose: The aims of the present study are (a) to quantify the developmental sequence of fricative mastery in Putonghua-speaking children and discuss the observed pattern in relation to existing theoretical positions, and (b) to describe the acquisition of the fine-articulatory/ acoustic details of fricatives in the multidimensional acoustic space. Method: Twenty adults and 97 children participated in a speech-production experiment, repeating a list of fricative-initial words. Two independent measures were applied to quantify the relative sequence of fricative acquisition: auditory-based phonetic transcription and acoustics-based statistical modeling. Two acoustic parameters—fricative centroid frequency and F2 onset—were used to index tongue-body and tongue-tip development, respectively. Results: Both transcription and statistical modeling of acoustics yielded the sequence of /ɕ/ → /ʂ/ → /s/. Acoustic analysis further revealed gradual separation in both acoustic dimensions, with the initial undifferentiated form ambiguous between /ɕ/ and /ʂ/. Conclusions: The observed sound-acquisition order was interpreted as reflecting a combined influence of both oromotor maturation and language-specific phoneme frequency in Putonghua. Acoustic results suggest a maturational advantage of the tongue body over the tongue tip during fricative development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)699-712
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Data collection and analysis were supported by the Ohio State University Target Investment Fellowship to Fangfang Li and Eunjong Kong, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Grant 02932 to Jan Edwards, and the University of Lethbridge Start-up Fund to Fangfang Li. We thank the staff in Songyuan No. 2 Daycare Center for facilitating participant recruitment and testing. We also thank those children and adults who participated in the study. Further thanks go to Mary E. Beckman and Jan Edwards for their advice in designing the experiment and transcription protocol and for extremely useful input in the development of the acoustic analysis used in this study and to Jennifer Mather for help with proofreading this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.


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