Bodies and codas or core syllables plus appendices? Evidence for a developmental theory of subsyllabic division preference

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Two experiments examining the subsyllabic division behaviors of Chinese-speaking children learning English as a foreign language (EFL) are reported. In Experiment 1, target phonemes of monosyllabic English nonwords were varied in phonotactic context (e.g., (C)VC vs. (C)CVC), marginality (e.g., (C)CVC vs. C(C)VC), and/or position (e.g., (C)VC vs. CV(C)) in phoneme deletion and isolation tasks, with confounds such as global similarity, vowel length, and targets' sonority controlled. The fourth graders found the initial obstruent more difficult to isolate when it constituted the onset itself, i.e., (C)VC, than when it was part of a clustered onset, i.e., (C)CVC; no such difference was observed (non)word-finally, however. The results thus failed to support a subsyllabic preference for either onsets and rimes or bodies and codas. In Experiment 2, 49 second graders were tested on two other sets of phoneme awareness tasks and similar results were obtained. Items of one task were adapted from Hulme et al. (2002), in which the English-speaking first graders found the initial phoneme of a clustered onset, i.e., (C)CVC, more difficult to delete than the cluster as a whole, i.e., (CC)VC. The opposite patterns were observed with the Chinese EFL learners in Experiment 2, who found instead the initial consonant easier to remove. Taken together, the results suggested that Chinese-speaking EFL children process an English syllable as a linear combination of an intact core syllable (i.e., CV) plus its appendices. In both experiments, moreover, only performance in segmenting core syllable, but not that of segmenting appendices from the core syllable, predicted decoding success, a pattern again opposite to that of Hulme et al. (2002). The seemingly conflicting results were nevertheless consistent with a general developmental account of intra-syllabic division preference.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)338-362
Number of pages25
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Dec

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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