Research on Child Language Acquisition. Proceedings of the 8th Conference of the International Association for the Study of Child Language. 1999, 701-712
The paper addresses the question of how to interpret phonological fillers, i.e., phonological elements with no or uncertain semantic content, in children¿s early language development. The goal is to explore the possibilities of establishing criteria for identifying each filler as an approximation to a grammatical word, as a protogrammatical morpheme or placeholder, and/or only as a phonological filler related to salient prosodic patterns of the language. The data are taken from a study of the phonological development of two Norwegian children, one of which used a lot of fillers in the form of inserting a vowel before and/or between her interpretable words. In the light of this child¿s development, a set of criteria for establishing the filler¿s grammatical status at different levels of specificity are proposed, based on how closely the filler matches a possible adult target distributionally and phonologically. When no grammatical interpretation can be given according to these criteria, the filler can only be interpreted phonologically, as an attempt to fit the salient prosodic patterns of the language. Such a prosodic interpretation is seen as the most basic or schematic interpretation, since the prosodic pattern is there the whole time as a baseline, also for those elements that may in addition be interpreted grammatically. Finally, the possible interaction during the process of acquisition between prosody on the one hand and morphology and syntax on the other is discussed in the light of the Norwegian data.