Informations and abstract
Keywords: prosody, rhythm, perception, acquisition, iambic-trochaic law
How do infants start learning the syntax of the language they are exposed to? In this paper, we examine a plausible mechanism for the acquisition of the relative order of heads and complements. We hypothesize that the iambic-trochaic law determines the physical realization of main prominence within phonological phrases that contain more than one word: if it is realized mainly through pitch and intensity, it is in a phonological phrase that is stressinitial and has a complement-head structure, otherwise it is in a phonological phrase that is stress-final and has a head-complement structure. We show this to be the case both across languages (French and Turkish), and within a language (German, where both orders of head and complement are found). Our finding allows us to consider a psychologically plausible mechanism for the acquisition of the relative order of heads and complements, one of the basic properties of syntax. Because the mechanism is based on auditory perception, it can be utilized before any knowledge of words, thus accounting for the flawlessness in infants' first words combinations.