Both English and Japanese have two voiceless sibilant fricatives, an anterior fricative /s/ contrasting with a more posterior fricative //. When children acquire sibilant fricatives, English children typically substitute s for //, whereas Japanese children typically substitute for /s/. This study examined English- and Japanese-speaking adults' perception of children's productions of voiceless sibilant fricatives to investigate whether the apparent asymmetry in the acquisition of voiceless sibilant fricatives reported previously in the two languages was due in part to how adults perceive children's speech. The results of this study show that adult speakers of English and Japanese weighed acoustic parameters differently when identifying fricatives produced by children and that these differences explain, in part, the apparent cross-language asymmetry in fricative acquisition. This study shows that generalizations about universal and language-specific patterns in speech-sound development cannot be determined without considering all sources of variation including speech perception.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Portions of this research were conducted as part of the first author’s Ph.D thesis from the Department of Linguistics, Ohio State University, completed in December 2008. This research was supported by NIDCD (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders) Grant No. 02932 to J.E., a McKnight presidential fellowship to B.M., and NSF (National Science Foundation) Grant No. BCS0739206 to M.E.B. We are especially grateful to Dr. Mary E. Beckman for her generous contributions and support to the early structure of the study, as well as much valuable advice and many comments to the Ph.D thesis of the first author where this study came from.