Baby Talks: Approximantation

Yes, my baby is still practicing fricative harmony. She’s also doing something else, which is approximanting? Is that even a word? She makes stops into approximants, is what I mean.

I speak General American English, so my intervocalic dental stops become flaps. I realize <water> and <daddy> as  [ˈwɑɾɚ] and [ˈdæɾi].

VtV > VɾV

VdV > VɾV

My wife and her family, however, speak Bulgarian, whose baby-talk register regularly replaces alveolar trills with alveolar approximants and alveolar approximants with palatal approximants. They realize <ribalov> (“fishing”) as /liba’jof/.*

r > l

l > j

Put those two tendencies together, and my baby pronounces <water> as /’wɑlø:/**

VtV > VɾV > VlV

While <belly> is /’bɛji:/

VlV > VjV

Simple enough, or so I thought until I heard the way she pronounces <baggy>: /’bæɰi/

VgV > VɰV

And <daddy> is not *dæli, it’s /’dæji/. My mother in law thinks she’s saying /dai/ (“give!”), but my mother in law is wrong. My baby is saying “daddy”

VdV >VɾV > VlV > VjV

So it looks like the rule my baby has generalized is:

Make voiced intervocalic stops into approximates. Make unvoiced intervocalic stops into lateral approximates. Make lateral approximates into semivowels.

In other words, find your phoneme in the below chart and skip three spaces right.


To test whether this is true, I should see if she makes these realizations:

<happy> as /ˈhæʋi/ (? I guess? Since there isn’t such a thing as a labial lateral approximant)

<baby> as /ˈbeɪwi/

<carry> as /ˈkɛ.ji/

<cheeky> as /tʃiːʟi/

Wish me luck!


*the final /f/ is because of European final-obstruent devoicing and is present in adult registers as well

**not entirely sure about that final vowel. It’s a rounded something-or-other. What babies usually use to replace /ɚ/.

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