Does Sentential Prosody Help Infants Organize And Remember Speech Information?

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Theories that propose a mapping between prosodic and syntactic structures require that prosodic units in fluent speech be perceptually salient for infants. Although previous studies have demonstrated that infants are sensitive to prosodic markers of syntactic units, they do not show that prosodic information really has an impact on how infants encode the speech they hear. Two experiments were conducted to examine whether infants as young as 2 months old might actually use the prosody afforded by sentences to organize and remember spoken information. The results suggest that infants better remember the phonetic properties of (1) words that are prosodically linked together within a single clause as opposed to individual items in a list (Experiment 1); and (2) words that are prosodically linked within a single clausal unit as opposed to spanning two contiguous fragments (Experiment 2). Taken together, the evidence from both experiments suggests that the prosodic organization of speech into clausal units enhances infants' memory for spoken information. These findings are discussed with regard to their implications for theories of language acquisition.

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