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Phonological Development - LAN00054M

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  • Department: Language and Linguistic Science
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Catherine Laing
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

In this module we will explore how cognitive mechanisms combine with linguistic and environmental experience to bring about a developing infant's linguistic system. We will consider how development in memory, movement and processing influences language acquisition, alongside analysis of real data to observe how infants tackle the challenges of first word production.

Related modules

Pre-requisite modules

Co-requisite modules

  • None

Prohibited combinations

  • None

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

This module will provide an overview of phonetic and phonological development, with an emphasis on the first two years of life. Through a combination of lectures, reading and practical sessions students will become acquainted with the findings of both observational and experimental studies of infant speech perception, distributional learning, segmentation, and production, and the transition from babbling to speech. The mechanisms of learning and development in this period will be particularly emphasized, and key theories will be explored.

By the end of the module students should:

  • understand the relationship between babbling and early word learning;

  • have understanding of the place of language learning in overall development in the first two years;

  • be able to identify patterning in the early words of children learning any language with which they are familiar;

  • have an understanding of the difference between explicit and implicit learning and the relationship of each to advances in speech perception, vocal production and word learning;

  • be able to critically evaluate some of the issues involved in the development of phonology.

Module learning outcomes

  • Analyse early production data using qualitative and quantitative approaches;

  • Identify infants' application of systematic and idiosyncratic phonological processes and describe these using subject-specific terminology and methods;

  • Clearly and effectively communicate scientific ideas covered in the module in written (through assessed essays) and spoken (through in-class presentations and contributions in lectures and seminars) language regarding the role of early vocal development in our understanding of language and cognition;

  • Demonstrate understanding of linguistic and cultural diversity in language development;

  • Formulate and address novel questions on phonological development.

Module content

This module will cover topics including:

  • Cognitive processes such as memory and attention

  • Pre-linguistic production

  • Word production

  • Perceptual development

  • Theoretical perspectives on language development


Task Length % of module mark
Phonological Development Research project
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Phonological Development Research project
N/A 100

Module feedback

Feedback to be provided within University guidelines

Formative Assessment - Written feedback on content and writing/presentation style
Summative Assessment - Annotation on submitted work

Indicative reading

Bahrick, L.E. and Pickens, J.N., 1995. Infant memory for object motion across a period of three months: Implications for a four-phase attention function. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 59(3), pp.343-371.

Bauer, P. J., Larkina, M., & Deocampo, J. (2011). Early memory development. In U. Goswami (ed.) The Wiley-Blackwell handbook of childhood cognitive development, 2nd Ed. (pp.153-179). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

Cristia, A., 2020. Language input and outcome variation as a test of theory plausibility: The case of early phonological acquisition. Developmental Review, 57, p.100914.

DePaolis, R.A., Vihman, M.M. and Keren-Portnoy, T., 2011. Do production patterns influence the processing of speech in prelinguistic infants? Infant Behavior and Development, 34(4), pp.590-601.

Elmlinger, S. L., Schwade, J. A. & Goldstein, M. H. (2019). The ecology of prelinguistic vocal learning: Parents simplify the structure of their speech in response to babbling. Journal of Child Language, 46, 998–1011.

Fagan, M. K. & Doveikis, K. N. (2017). Ordinary interactions challenge proposals that maternal verbal responses shape infant vocal development. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 60, 2819-2827.

Ghazanfar, A.A. and Hauser, M.D., 1999. The neuroethology of primate vocal communication: substrates for the evolution of speech. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 3(10), pp.377-384.

Gillespie-Lynch, K., Greenfield, P.M., Lyn, H. and Savage-Rumbaugh, S., 2014. Gestural and symbolic development among apes and humans: support for a multimodal theory of language evolution. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, p.1228.

Goldstein, M.H., King, A.P. and West, M.J., 2003. Social interaction shapes babbling: Testing parallels between birdsong and speech. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(13), pp.8030-8035.

Hallé, P.A. and de Boysson-Bardies, B., 1996. The format of representation of recognized words in infants' early receptive lexicon. Infant Behavior and Development, 19(4), pp.463-481.

Hyland Bruno, J., Jarvis, E.D., Liberman, M. and Tchernichovski, O., 2021. Birdsong learning and culture: analogies with human spoken language. Annual Review of Linguistics, 7, pp.449-472. [awaiting library resource]

Lalonde, C.E. and Werker, J.F., 1995. Cognitive influences on cross-language speech perception in infancy. Infant Behavior and Development, 18(4), pp.459-475.

Macken, M. A. (1979). Developmental reorganization of phonology: A hierarchy of basic units of acquisition. In Vihman & Keren-Portnoy (Eds). The Emergence of Phonology: Whole word approaches, cross-linguistic evidence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McAllister Byun, T. & Tessier, A-M. (2016). Motor influences on grammar in an emergentist model of phonology. Language and Linguistic Compass, 10/9, 431-452.

McGillion, M. M., Pine, J., Herbert, J. & Matthews, D. (2017). A randomised controlled trial to test the effect of promoting caregiver contingent talk on language development in infants from diverse socioeconomic status backgrounds. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58, 1122-1131.

Roy, D. (2011). The Birth of a Word. TED. Available at

Soderstrom, M., 2007. Beyond babytalk: Re-evaluating the nature and content of speech input to preverbal infants. Developmental Review, 27(4), pp.501-532.

Vihman, M. M. (2014). Phonological Development: The first two years: (2nd, revised edition). Oxford: Blackwell.

Vihman, M. M. (2018). First word learning. In S-A. Rueschemeyer & G. Gaskell (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Psycholinguistics, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Vihman, M. M. & Croft, W. (2013). Phonological development: Toward a “radical” templatic phonology. In Vihman & Keren-Portnoy (Eds). The Emergence of Phonology: Whole word approaches, cross-linguistic evidence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vilain, A., Dole, M., Loevenbruck, H., Pascalis, O. and Schwartz, J.L., 2019. The role of production abilities in the perception of consonant category in infants. Developmental Science, 22(6), p.e12830.

Vouloumanos, A. and Curtin, S., 2014. Foundational tuning: How infants' attention to speech predicts language development. Cognitive Science, 38(8), pp.1675-1686.

Vihman, M. M. (2019). Prosodic Structures and Phonological Templates in Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Vihman, M. M. & Keren-Portnoy, T. (eds.) (2013). The Emergence of Phonology: Whole word approaches, cross-linguistic evidence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Waterson, N. (1971). Child phonology: A prosodic view. Journal of Linguistics, 7, 179-211. Reprinted in Vihman & Keren-Portnoy (2013).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.