Studies of lip-jaw coordination in children have shown a lack of motor differentiation between anatomically coupled articulators in young children's speech [Green & al. 2000, JSLHR 43: 239-255]. A model is described in which children contending with their developing motor systems generally strive to reduce the degrees of freedom of complex anatomical structures (e.g., the tongue). The claim is pursued that segmental substitutions (e.g., /w/ replacing /r/ or /l/) are the result of specific compensation strategies which aim to simplify the complexity of the articulatory task. The proposal that gestural simplification may dictate substitution strategies for liquid consonants has been suggested previously [Studdert-Kennedy & Goldstein 2003, Language Evolution, Oxford U. Pr. 235-254]. It is proposed here that gestural simplification may be achieved via one of two basic mechanisms: gestural omission and stiffening (and hence merger), and that these two mechanisms account for all of the commonly attested substitutions for English /r/ and /l/. Supporting data are presented from ultrasound studies of: postvocalic /r/ production of an 11-month-old female speaker of English, liquid production of a group of 3-5-year-old speakers of English, and liquid production and substitutions in the speech of adolescent speakers of English with speech and hearing disorders.

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