14th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-14)

San Francisco, CA, USA
August 1-7, 1999

The Acquisition of Rhythmic Patterns in English and French

Esther Grabe (1), Brechtje Post (2,3), Ian Watson (3)

(1) Department of Linguistics, University of Cambridge, UK
(2) Department of English, University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands,
(3) Phonetics Laboratory, University of Oxford, UK

Although rhythm may provide a basic grid for the acquisition of language, experimental studies investigating its development are scarce. In this paper, we examine the rhythmic patterns produced by 4-year-old French and English children and their mothers. In utterances of minimally four syllables, vowel durations were measured, and a rhythm index was calculated which expresses the degree of variability between successive vowel durations. The results show

  1. that successive vowel durations produced by French mothers are more nearly equal than those produced by English mothers, and
  2. that the rhythmic patterns of English mothers and children differ, but those of French mothers and children do not.

Our findings are in accord with traditional descriptions of French and English as syllable- and stress-timed respectively, and show that 4-year-old French children appear to have acquired the syllable-timed rhythm of French, but 4-year-old English children have not acquired the stress-timed rhythm of English.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Grabe, Esther / Post, Brechtje / Watson, Ian (1999): "The acquisition of rhythmic patterns in English and French", In ICPhS-14, 1201-1204.