Language-Specific Developmental Differences in Speech Production: A Cross-Language Acoustic Study


  • Portions of this research were conducted as part of the author’s Ph.D. thesis from the Ohio State University, Department of Linguistics, completed in December 2008. This research was supported by NIDCD Grant 02932 to Dr. Jan Edwards. I would like to express my appreciation to Dr. Jan Edwards and to my advisor, Dr. Mary E. Beckman, for their generous support in data collection and valuable advice on data analysis. I thank the children who participated in the task, the parents who gave their consents, and the schools at which the data were collected. I also thank the editor, the two anonymous reviewers, as well as Dr. Jennifer Mather for their helpful comments. Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Tamiko Ogura for her generosity in sharing unpublished norming data on Japanese CDI with me.

concerning this article should be addressed to Fangfang Li, Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge, 4401 University Drive, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada T1K 3M4. Electronic mail may be sent to


Speech productions of 40 English- and 40 Japanese-speaking children (aged 2–5) were examined and compared with the speech produced by 20 adult speakers (10 speakers per language). Participants were recorded while repeating words that began with “s” and “sh” sounds. Clear language-specific patterns in adults’ speech were found, with English speakers differentiating “s” and “sh” in 1 acoustic dimension (i.e., spectral mean) and Japanese speakers differentiating the 2 categories in 3 acoustic dimensions (i.e., spectral mean, standard deviation, and onset F2 frequency). For both language groups, children’s speech exhibited a gradual change from an early undifferentiated form to later differentiated categories. The separation processes, however, only occur in those acoustic dimensions used by adults in the corresponding languages.