Clauses Are Perceptual Units For Young Infants

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Most theories of language acquisition implicitly assume that the language learner is able to arrive at a segmentation of speech into clausal units. The present studies employed a preference procedure to examine the sensitivity of 7-10-month-old infants to acoustic correlates of clausal units in English. From a recording of a mother speaking to her child, matched samples were constructed by inserting pauses either at clause boundaries or at within-clause locations. The infants oriented longer to the samples segmented at the clause boundary. A second experiment confirmed that these preferences depended on where the pauses were inserted in the samples. These findings have important implications for understanding how language is learnable. The prelinguistic infant apparently possesses the means to detect important units such as clauses, within which grammatical rules apply.

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