The development of prosodic structure in early words

The development of prosodic structure in early words: Continuity, divergence and change. By Mitsuhiko Ota. (Language acquisition and language disorders series 34.) Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2003. Pp. 224. ISBN 1588114694. $119 (Hb).

Reviewed by Yvan Rose, Memorial University of Newfoundland

This book, a revised version of Ota’s 1999 Ph.D. dissertation, addresses a series of important theoretical and empirical issues pertaining to the phonological development of prosodic structure. The investigation is based on a comparative, longitudinal study of three first-language learners of Japanese, supplemented with data from seven longitudinal studies conducted by other scholars. The book explores three main issues: the extent to which the prosodic organization of early words parallels that of the adult (target) language; what factors govern the differences in shape and size of early word forms relative to those found in the adult language; and how the analysis of the first two issues should be approached from a theoretical perspective.

The book is organized into eight chapters. The first chapter introduces the main issues addressed in the monograph. The discussion revolves around the question of whether phonological development follows a continuous path from early productions to adult-like forms, and how this important question should be addressed from empirical and theoretical perspectives. Ch. 2 outlines the theoretical framework used in the analyses presented in the subsequent chapters. The framework is based on two main components: phonological representations and constraints on these representations. This discussion is supplemented with crosslinguistic examples taken from the literature, with a special emphasis on the prosodic properties of Japanese. In Ch. 3, O provides a concise description of his methodology, focusing mainly on the data collection, transcription, and coding of his three primary case studies.

Chs. 4 and 5 are both devoted to syllable structure. In Ch. 4, O addresses the long-standing debate as to whether syllables should be formally divided into subsyllabic constituents. He first discusses the process of compensatory lengthening, analyzed as mora conservation within the syllable rhyme. He then provides convincing empirical support for this prediction from the behavior of words that undergo coda deletion in child Japanese. Building on this analysis, O explores other predictions made by moraic theory about adult languages and, again, uncovers supporting evidence in the acquisition data. In Ch. 5, the author investigates the development of syllable structure in Japanese. He formulates an analysis based on constraints referring to the representations discussed in Ch. 4. Using various rankings of these constraints, he provides a stage-based account of the developmental patterns observed in the data. Chs. 6 and 7 follow the same outline as that of the preceding two chapters, in order to address representational (Ch. 6) and developmental (Ch. 7) aspects of word-internal structure. Again here, O establishes strong parallels between the properties of the target language and phonological patterning observed in the developmental data. General conclusions and a brief discussion of further directions are offered in Ch. 8.

In sum, this book provides clear evidence for continuity between developing and adult prosodic structure in Japanese. Through his thorough discussions of theoretical issues and detailed coverage of the relevant empirical facts, O has assembled in this book a solid contribution to both the field of phonological theory and that of research in phonological development.