Department of Linguistics
University of Pennsylvania
Minimal Pairs and the Emergence of Phonological Categories
Phonological categories form a system of contrast in the lexicon. In phonological analysis, minimal pairs are used to diagnose whether two speech sounds are phonemes. Although statistical learning has been popular as an explanation for phonological acquisition, recent work calls for a more integrative approach. This study investigates the role of minimal pairs — a form of lexical cues — in phonological acquisition. The first part of the study quantifies minimal pair cues in child-directed speech from the Providence Corpus. In addition, the corpus data provides evidence that minimal pairs are predictive of child production accuracy on the word level and on the phoneme level. The second part of this study describes a computational model that uses minimal pair cues in conjunction with acoustics to learn phonological categories.