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Non-arbitrary expressions in Swedish parent-child interactions

Conference contribution
Authors Åsa Abelin
Published in International Symposium on Monolingual and Bilingual Speech, 4-7 September 2017 Chania, Crete, Greece.
Publication year 2017
Published at Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Language en
Keywords non-arbitrariness, onomatopoeia, child language, infant directed speech
Subject categories Children's language, Linguistics


Non-arbitrary words are onomatopoeic, sound symbolic or emotionally expressive (Abelin, 1999). Non-arbitrary words are embodied in the sense that they are more directly grounded in sensory experience (hearing, touch, sight) than arbitrary words. These words are thus also claimed to be easier to learn for the child – the sound symbolism boot strapping hypothesis (Imai & Kita, 2014). It is generally said that there is a higher frequency of onomatopoeia in infant directed speech (IDS) than in adult directed speech. Laing, Vihman & Keren-Portnoy (2016) compared onomatopoeic words acoustically with corresponding conventional words in IDS. The issue was whether the greater prosodic saliency or the concept of the sound symbolism boot strapping hypothesis is what facilitates first language acquisition. The purpose of the present paper is to study the frequency and use of both onomatopoeic and sound symbolic words, in IDS and in children’s speech, in a longitudinal corpus of Swedish. The study will look for interaction between the variables frequency, age at recording, type of non-arbitrary word (onomatopoeic or sound symbolic) and type of speech (IDS or child speech). The research question is: What is the quantitative and qualitative development of onomatopoeic and sound symbolic expressions in Swedish children’s speech and infant directed speech? The corpus used is the Lacerda corpus in the CHILDES corpora (MacWhinney, 2000) which consists of recordings and transcriptions of three Swedish speaking children and their caregivers recorded at six occasions between approximately 1 and 2;8 years. In total there are 18 recordings, between 13 and 57 minutes long. The onomatopoeic and sound symbolic expressions in the speech of the children and in the child directed speech was analysed. Preliminary results show that more onomatopoeic words are produced in the early recordings than in the later recordings, and that the caregivers produce more onomatopoeic and sound symbolic words than the children do. The results also form a basis for studies at the interactional level between child and adult.

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