Perception Of Acoustic Correlates Of Major Phrasal Units By Young Infants

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Cognitive Psychology


How might young learners parse speech into linguistically relevant units? Sensitivity to prosodic markers of these segments is one possibility. Seven experiments examined infants' sensitivity to acoustic correlates of phrasal units in English. The results suggest that: (a) 9 month olds, but not 6 month olds, are attuned to cues that differentially mark speech that is artificially segmented at linguistically COINCIDENT as opposed to NONCOINCIDENT boundaries (Experiments 1 and 2); (b) the pattern holds across both subject phrases and predicate phrases and across samples of both Child- and Adult-directed speech (Experiments 3, 4, and 7); and (c) both 9 month olds and adults show the sensitivity even when most phonetic information is removed by low-pass filtering (Experiments 5 and 6). Acoustic analyses suggest that pitch changes and in some cases durational changes are potential cues that infants might be using to make their discriminations. These findings are discussed with respect to their implications for theories of language acquisition.

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