1001 Ways to Troll Linguists—A Fragment—R. Key O’Logist & Pei-Li O’Logist SpecGram Vol CLXXIX, No 3 Contents From the Archives!—SpecGram Propaganda XII—The SpecGram Archive Elves™

Childhood Phonology Exposure Causes Bilabial Trills at Breakfast

by Phineas Phlegmson & Raz Berrie

Introduction and Literature Review

Notker Balbulus (1998) famously argued that childhood exposure to phonological theory would improve language learning and also bring language acquisition more in line with dominant theoretical hypotheses. This paper presents the results of a small-scale trial of his argument. It is found that exposure to materials on phonology did indeed lead to increased phonological variation but at the expense of adherence to familial mealtime norms.


Three children were selected for this study due to shared kinship features. Their ages were 4.75374 years (male), 3.333333 years (female) and 1.00459 years (female), giving a mean age of 3.03055. All were voluntarily and repeatedly exposed to a 5 minute, 55 second video entitled “Weird Phonemespronouncing the world’s rarest sounds” by Nativlang, publicly available via YouTube. Changes in their phonological production patterns were then observed.1


Of the three, the male and older female showed the most interest, with the younger female preferring to attempt to throw herself off the sofa of produce original phonemes by modification of the researcher’s facial muscles. The two that did show interest almost immediately requested further exposure by requesting “the clicks video.”

The male subject soon adapted his speech by attempting to reproduce the /g͡b/, followed quickly by anything involving clicks and bilabial trills. The older female simply resorted to smiling, laughing, and the occasional bilabial trill. However, by the fifth exposure, the younger female had decided that her parents’ names were both /ʙ/.

Discussion and Conclusion

While these results are by no means conclusive, they do have greater claim to empirical validity than almost anything written from “example sentences” and “Swadesh lists”. Thus, it is possible to generalise from them in exactly the same way as researchers generalise from their own grammaticality judgments.2

This study conclusively proves that exposure to phonology in early childhood can and does enlarge the phonological repertoire of the individual child, with the exact effects depending on age, gender and preference for grabbing people by the face. It should be noted, however, that the side-effects of such exposure are severe and pronounced. Since exposure began, two of the three research subjects have taken to asking for exposure on a regular basis and regularly employ bilabial trills, various clicks and randomly displaced vowel sounds while eating family meals, while the third is now sure that the English word for parent is /ʙ/.

1 For future experiments, it would be worth adding the words “from a safe distance”. Alas, precautions were not taken this time and the researcher became rather soaked in the work.

2 That is, by making results sound more important than they actually area respected tradition in all branches of linguistics.

1001 Ways to Troll LinguistsA FragmentR. Key O’Logist & Pei-Li O’Logist
From the Archives!SpecGram Propaganda XIIThe SpecGram Archive Elves™
SpecGram Vol CLXXIX, No 3 Contents