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Cross-linguistic consonant acquisition (McLeod & Crowe, 2018)

posted on 31.08.2018 by Sharynne McLeod, Kathryn Crowe
Purpose: The aim of this study was to provide a cross-linguistic review of acquisition of consonant phonemes to inform speech-language pathologists’ expectations of children’s developmental capacity by (a) identifying characteristics of studies of consonant acquisition, (b) describing general principles of consonant acquisition, and (c) providing case studies for English, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish.
Method: A cross-linguistic review was undertaken of 60 articles describing 64 studies of consonant acquisition by 26,007 children from 31 countries in 27 languages: Afrikaans, Arabic, Cantonese, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Jamaican Creole, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Maltese, Mandarin (Putonghua), Portuguese, Setswana (Tswana), Slovenian, Spanish, Swahili, Turkish, and Xhosa.
Results: Most studies were cross-sectional and examined single word production. Combining data from 27 languages, most of the world’s consonants were acquired by 5;0 years; months old. By 5;0, children produced at least 93% of consonants correctly. Plosives, nasals, and nonpulmonic consonants (e.g., clicks) were acquired earlier than trills, flaps, fricatives, and affricates. Most labial, pharyngeal, and posterior lingual consonants were acquired earlier than consonants with anterior tongue placement. However, there was an interaction between place and manner where plosives and nasals produced with anterior tongue placement were acquired earlier than anterior trills, fricatives, and affricates.
Conclusions: Children across the world acquire consonants at a young age. Five-year-old children have acquired most consonants within their ambient language; however, individual variability should be considered.

Supplemental Material S1. Average age of acquisition of pulmonic and nonpulmonic consonants across studies.

Supplemental Material S2. Mean age (in months) of acquisition of consonant phonemes across all languages organized by manner of articulation using 75–85% and 90–100% criteria. Reprinted with permission from McLeod and Crowe (2018).

Supplemental Material S3. Mean age of acquisition of pulmonic consonant phonemes in months across all languages organized by place of articulation using 75–85% and 90–100% criteria. Reprinted with permission from McLeod and Crowe (2018).

McLeod, S., & Crowe, K. (2018). Children's consonant acquisition in 27 languages: A cross-linguistic review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1044/2018_AJSLP-17-0100


The authors acknowledge support from the Charles Sturt University; an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP180102848) awarded to the first author.