The development of phonology in Spanish and Portuguese

The development of phonology in Spanish and Portuguese. By Eduardo D. Faingold. (LINCOM studies in romance linguistics 59.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2008. Pp. 127. ISBN 9783895867125. $80.
Reviewed by Sonia Ramírez Wohlmuth, University of South Florida

The background assumptions presented in the introductory chapter of the book provide cohesion for disparate situations of phonological acquisition: first language acquisition in children, the development of creoles, and languages in contact. Because these contexts assume the coexistence of multiple varieties of language, the phonological repertory that evolves in the specific cases under study can be construed as examples of the emergence of the unmarked. Eduardo D. Faingold relies on the concept of phonological universals (and markedness) studied by Joseph H. Greenberg and his predecessors. The history of the concept of markedness, presented in Ch. 2, begins in the work of Nikolai S. Trubetzkoy and Roman Jakobson, and continues in the theoretical underpinnings of generative phonology.

The data utilized in this study include tokens collected by the author based on observations of language acquisition (Argentine Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese) of his son and niece, as well as published studies on the acquisition of phonology in Spanish and Portuguese as first languages. Data for adult phonology (creoles and languages in contact) are gleaned from synchronic and diachronic studies of creole languages such as Papiamentu and Palenquero as well as varieties of Judeo-Ibero-Romance and Fronterizo.

Discussion of the development of child phonology begins with the presentation of the phonological systems of both the input languages under study, Argentine Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. Application of the markedness filter allows for prediction of those phonemes that will be acquired later or modified to reduce markedness. F recognizes the shortcomings of studies that depend on small samples and, frequently, as in this study, involve particularly complex linguistic environments as children are presented with data from two or more competing linguistic systems. Those tokens that appear to counter the predictable preference for unmarked forms may have mitigating circumstances such as word frequency. Consequently, F cautions: ‘The issues and counterexamples noted in the previous sections clearly show that not all children nor all language systems support the oppositions proposed as optimal’ (16).

Chs. 5 and 6 examine the phonological inventories of Papiamentu, Palenquero, Judeo-Ibero-Romance, and Fronterizo (a contact or fusion language developed on the Brazilian/Uruguayan border) as well as phonotactic restrictions that have developed in these language varieties. The simplification of onsets and codas, and, in some cases, syllable nuclei, is a predictable, unidirectional change. As in the case of child language, sociolinguistic factors are explored in the case of lexical borrowings that form counterexamples to the emergence of the unmarked. However, F has convincingly demonstrated that, despite the influence of the language of prestige, there is an overall tendency to select the less marked or universally more frequent phonemes and phonotactic patterns, not only in the acquisition of the phonology of the first language but in the development of creoles and fusion languages as well.