Filler Syllables in the Acquisition of Hebrew: A Prosodic Account

Aviad Albert, Hadass Zaidenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In this paper we review the phenomenon of filler syllables in the early speech of RM, a monolingual Hebrew-acquiring girl. Our findings support former claims, in particular those made in Demuth (2001a), which tie the emergence of filler syllables with the process of prosodic structure acquisition. We present longitudinal corpus-based data that are analyzed against pre-defined stages in RM's acquisition of prosodic units to corroborate our predictions. We show that the distributional patterns of filler syllables can be attributed to prosodic requirements such as minimal word and foot type preferences during early stages of acquisition, and the emergence of concatenative morpho-syntax at later stages, where prosodic units above the phonological word begin to appear. In our view, a proper analysis of filler syllables is possible with a pure a phonological devices that rely on the prosodic hierarchy (Selkirk 1978, 1986, Nespor and Vogel 1986), since this hierarchy already encapsulates an underlying interaction with morpho-syntactic domains. Our criteria for defining filler syllables do not presuppose that fillers are limited to any specific position, yet we take measures to ensure that actual fillers are not overlooked while general epenthesis processes are not confused with augmentation processes (only the latter are considered as fillers). We do so by detection of vowel insertions that stem from vocalization of approximant coda targets, cluster simplification processes and coda resyllabification. We believe that our strategy in considering subsets of fillers enables to verify attested trends and consider their complexities in full.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)162-188
Number of pages27
JournalBrill's Journal of Afroasiatic Languages and Linguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2012


  • filler syllables
  • foot
  • language acquisition
  • minimal word
  • minor phonological phrase
  • prosodic hierarchy


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