To begin, we review three theoretical problem areas in
the field of research into phonological variation in children.
Next, we present the results of a cross-sectional study of
two groups of children, aged 6 to 7 years and 10 to 12 years,
relating to the deletion of post-consonantal word-final /R/ in
French (production and judgments of acceptability). In an
experimental study, we then examine the mechanism involved in
the learning of words with a variable /R/. Finally, the
interpretation of the results within the framework of a
cognitive conception of variation leads us to four conclusions:
(i) children have a tendency to copy adult surface forms rather
than to encode a variable rule; (ii) orthography causes the late
encoding of certain variable /R/s; (iii) the establishment of
linguistic factors precedes that of social factors; and (iv)
age-related changes are not guided by the sociolinguistic value
that groups consciously attribute to the variables.