Acquisition of sociolinguistic variables in Spanish: Do children acquire individual lexical forms or variable rules?

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Mouton de Gruyter


Previous research in the area of phonological variation has focused on describing internal and external constraints in the speech of adult speakers. These previous investigations have contributed to our understanding of the role played by different groups within the speech community in the process of language change. The study of variation in child language was not taken into consideration for a long period of time in sociolinguistic studies. Pio­neer work on the acquisition of variation in child phonology (Labov 1964) proposes that development of stylistic variation probably starts when indi­viduals are 14 years old under the influence of wider contacts with peers beyond the neighborhood or high school. More recently this idea has been challenged by some scholars who have conducted research on the acquisi­tion of variable phonology in English, French, and Spanish (Roberts and Labov 1995; Roberts 1994, 1997a, 1997b; Chevrot, Beaud, and Varga 2000; Díaz-Campos 2001). The assumption in the work of Roberts and Labov 1995; Roberts 1994, 1997a, 1997b, and Díaz-Campos 2001 is that the acquisition of variable phonology entails the encoding of a variable rule . According to Labov (1972), variable rules are based on generative phono­logical rules with the ingredient of incorporating the probability of applica­tion of them when linguistic and social constraints are satisfied. Nonethe­less, Chevrot, Beaud, and Varga (2000:295) suggest that children tend to copy adult surface forms instead of acquiring a variable rule. This sugges­tion that children copy lexical forms is consistent with Bybee's (2001) us­age-based model of phonology in which linguistic regularities are not expressed as rules, but rather as schemas. This means that speakers discover generalizations about linguistic units and create a series of connections based on similarities among them.




Díaz-Campos, Manuel. 2004. Acquisition of sociolinguistic variables in Spanish: Do children acquire individual lexical forms or variable rules? In Timothy Face (Ed.), Laboratory approaches to Spanish phonology, 221-236. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.


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