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Assessing phonological development among Akan-speaking children Amoako, Wendy Kwakye


This study addresses child language acquisition in Akan, a Kwa language spoken in Ghana with about 8,100,000 first language speakers (Simon and Fennig, 2018). Although Akan is one of the dominant indigenous languages spoken in Ghana, no study has investigated how children master the phonological system of the language. This thesis is intended to increase our knowledge of phonological development, for general purposes and to support clinical assessment of children with atypical phonological development. A preliminary word list of 103 words (with corresponding pictures for elicitation) was constructed, sampling the full range of prosodic structures, consonants, vowels and tones, using words that are picturable and likely to be familiar to preschool children. Standard transcription conventions were developed, to be consistent with a larger cross-linguistic study on child phonology (e.g., Chávez-Peón et al., 2012; Bernhardt et at., 2019). The word list was piloted with 4 adults (to support establishment of the adult target forms) and nine typically developing Akan-speaking children aged 3 to 5 years. Following a nonlinear phonological framework (Bernhardt and Stemberger, 1998), all aspects of the child productions, from the segments and features to the syllable and word structure, were analyzed. As expected, older children master more aspects of the sound system than younger children. Similar to what has been attested for other languages, most aspects of Akan phonology are mastered by age 5, and the remaining unmastered aspects of the phonology resemble late-mastered aspects in the acquisition of other languages. As expected, there were effects of articulatory complexity such that consonants with secondary articulation developed later than their plain counterparts. Effects of syllable structure complexity were also attested so that Cr and NC sequences, resembling consonant clusters elsewhere, were later developing and were subject to different types of structural adjustments. One interesting finding involved instances where adults had two or three variant pronunciations, where some children showed the overuse of infrequent (less complex) adult variants. This pattern may be a challenge for some developmental theories. The results suggest that the elicitation tool developed here should be useful in clinical settings.

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