The Prosodic Bootstrapping Of Phrases: Evidence From Prelinguistic Infants

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Journal Of Memory And Language


The current study explores infants’ use of prosodic cues coincident with phrases in processing fluent speech. After familiarization with two versions of the same word sequence, both 6- and 9-month-olds showed a preference for a passage containing the sequence as a noun phrase over a passage with the same sequence as a syntactic non-unit. However, this result was found only in one of the two groups, the group exposed to a stronger prosodic difference between the syntactic and non-syntactic sequences. Six month olds were tested in the same way on passages containing verb phrases. In this case, both groups preferred the passage with the verb phrase to the passage with the same word sequence as a syntactic non-unit. These results provide the first evidence that infants as young as 6 months old are sensitive to prosodic markers of syntactic units smaller than the clause, and, in addition, that they use this sensitivity to recognize phrasal units, both noun and verb phrases, in fluent speech. This ability to use phrase-level prosodic cues is variable, however, and appears to depend on the strength or number of cues associated with these syntactic units.

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