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Consonant harmony

We are investigating a phenomenon in children's speech called 'consonant harmony'. That means that a consonant is pronounced in such a way that it becomes more similar to a following or a preceding consonant.

How can consonants become more similar to each other?

  • place of articulation (e.g., a velar k is pronounced as a labial p)
  • manner of articulation (e.g., a plosive p is pronounced as a fricative f)
  • phonation (e.g., a voiceless p is pronounced as a voiced b)

A harmony like this is produced by the younger of the two children in the following video:

The child pronounces the word kapul, 'possum', as papuy. I.e., she makes two kinds of changes: One of them is a consonant harmony, and the other, a consonant substitution. Watch the video first, and then the explanation below.

The project investigates this phenomenon in more detail, asking questions such as: how can consonant harmony be distinguished from other processes such as consonant substitution? Does the harmony only affect an immediately preceding or following consonant, or can it skip across a few consonants? Do these bilingual children draw on the sound systems of both their languages (Qaqet and Tok Pisin)?