Article published in:Phonetics of the Origins and Evolution of Speech
Edited by Didier Demolin and Jean-Marie Hombert
[Evolution of Communication 3:1] 1999
► pp. 3–20
Evolution of the form of spoken words
The basic internal structure of a word consists of an alternation between consonants and vowels. Words tend to begin with a consonant and end with a vowel. The fundamental evolutionary status of the consonant-vowel alternation is indicated by its presence in rhythmically organized pre-linguistic vocalizations of 7 month-old babbling infants. We have argued that the basic alternation results from a mandibular cyclicity ("The Frame") originally evolving for ingestive purposes. Here, we consider beginnings and endings of words. We conclude that preferences for consonantal beginnings and vocalic endings may be basic biomechanical consequences of the act of producing vocal episodes between resting states of the production system. Both the characteristic beginning-end asymmetry and some details of the choice of individual sounds in the non-preferred modes (vocalic beginnings and consonantal endings) are mirrored in babbling and early words. The presence of many of these properties in modern words, even though they are delivered in running speech, as well as in a proto-language corpus, indicates retention, for message purposes, of properties originally associated with the single word stage of language evolution.
Keywords: Speech, Language, Syllable, Consonant, Word, Vowel
Published online: 30 March 2001
Cited by other publications
GILDERSLEEVE-NEUMANN, CHRISTINA E., BARBARA L. DAVIS & PETER F. MACNEILAGE
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