Baby Talks: Consonant Harmony

I noticed something cool while I was singing the finger family song to my 2-year-old daughter this morning: consonant harmony.

Me: Mommy finger mommy finger where are you?

Her: Mommy minger!

Me: Daddy finger…

Her: Daddy binger!

Me: Kaka (big sister) finger

Her: Kaka pinger!

What’s going on here? From “Mommy minger” you might just assume that she’s replacing the first letter in “finger” with the first letter in the preceding word, but it’s not *daddy dinger, it’s daddy binger.

What seems to be happening is that my daughter retains the place of articulation of the first phoneme of the noun (labio-dental for the f in finger), but harmonizes its manner of articulation with the manner of the adjunct noun (voiced stop for the in daddy).


Mommy finger > /ˈmɒmi ˈɱɪŋɡə/ 

Daddy finger > /ˈdædi ˈb̪ɪŋɡə/

Kaka finger > /’kakə ˈp̪ɪŋɡə/

Those are some pretty funky consonants. Alternately, my daughter pronounces “f” as /ɸ/, turning the first phonemes of “minger,” “binger,” and “pinger” into unassumingly bilabial /m/, /b/, and /p/.

The way to test it would be to try to make her say “sister finger,” which should either become /ˈsɪs.tə ˈfɪŋɡə/ or /ˈsɪs.tə ˈɸɪŋɡə/. Or, if I’m just wrong about everything, /ˈsɪs.tə ˈsɪŋɡə/ 🙁


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