Six-Month-Olds' Detection Of Clauses Embedded In Continuous Speech: Effects Of Prosodic Well-Formedness

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Three experiments investigated the role of prosodic structure for infants’ recognition of embedded word sequences. Six-month-olds were familiarized with 2 versions of the same sequence, 1 corresponding to a well-formed prosodic unit and the other to a prosodically ill-formed sequence (although a successive word series). Next, infants heard 2 test passages. One included the well-formed unit, and the other included the ill-formed sequence. In Experiment 1, infants listened longer to the passage containing the well-formed unit, suggesting that such units, even when they are embedded, are better recognized. Experiments 2 and 3 showed that this better recognition does not depend on an acoustic match between the familiarized sequences and their later embeddings. This suggests that the advantage of the well-formed unit is at least partially due to infants’ use of prosody to parse continuous speech.