Trochaic template use in early words and phrases

Karla K. McGregor, Amy C. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The speech of twenty normally developing children whose linguistic development spanned four MLU stages was recorded. The weak syllable productions in their spontaneous and elicited words and phrases were examined. The children demonstrated more frequent use of weak syllables that occurred in trochaic (strong + weak) than iambic (weak + strong) patterns. The constraint on iambs was not absolute; even children in MLU Stage I produced weak syllables in iambs occasionally. Also, it was not a constraint on lexical representations as the same pattern was evinced for word combinations. Weakly stressed articles were omitted significantly more often from noun phrases that were iambic than from those that were trochaic. These data suggest that a pattern of the form strong syllable + optional weak syllable [S(W)] serves as a template for multisyllabic productions, whether mono- or multimorphemic. With increasing MLU, S(W) template use declined and control of timing distinctions between weak and strong syllables became more adult-like. We conclude that the trochee may function as either an optimal representational unit or as an optimal timing unit for early syllable sequences. The trochaic template is invoked when the complexity of an intended utterance exceeds the child's resources for planning and production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1220-1231
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Articles
  • Iambic weak syllables
  • Template
  • Trochaic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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