The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship



A central goal of linguistics is to develop models to account for how children acquire their native language. One study that has done this is Boersma, Escudero, and Hayes (2003). In this study, the authors developed a model using an Optimality Theoretic approach to account for the ways in which children acquire language and language specific F1 frequencies into phonetic categories. The model uses a set of Optimality Theoretic constraints whose rankings gradually change in response to the learner’s input. The way this model works, however, utilizes highranked discriminatory constraints in the initial state to produce movement in the Optimality Theory hierarchy. By taking this approach, it seems that the learner initially perceives incoming speech sounds as non-speech sounds and soon thereafter learns to categorize the sounds into the appropriate phonetic categories, resulting in language acquisition. In this paper, I have modified the proposal of Boersma, Escudero, and Hayes (2003) to avoid the counter-intuitive implications of perceiving incoming speech sounds as non-speech sounds. Instead of using high-ranked discriminatory constraints in the initial state, I have reversed the model to use high-ranked “perceive” constraints in the initial state. Reversal of the initial state is attractive because it no longer assumes that children inherently do not acknowledge speech sounds at the beginning of language acquisition. This paper gives an alternative perspective on this language acquisition model and is designed to explore different ways to account for how the infant brain acquires language at the phonetic level. Additionally, the current model also acknowledges frequencies that are not present in the training data where the previous model categorizes unfamiliar frequencies as non-speech sounds.

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. Timothy Hunter

Author Bio

Colette Feehan is now a graduate student in general linguistics at Indiana University. She worked on this paper for her undergraduate honors thesis at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Since completing her BA in linguistics and psychology at Minnesota she spent a year working in the Speech Acquisition Lab at the University of Utah and has now begun her Ph.D. at Indiana University with a focus on second language phonetics and phonology. She can be reached at:



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.