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Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice

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Language Evolution: The Windows Approach

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Academic Paper


Title: Infant sensitivity to distributional information can affect phonetic discrimination
Author: Jessica Maye
Email: click here TO access email
Homepage: http://www.communication.northwestern.edu/csd/faculty/Jessica_Maye/
Institution: Northwestern University
Author: Janet F Werker
Institution: University of British Columbia
Author: LouAnn Gerken
Email: click here TO access email
Homepage: http://www.u.arizona.edu/~gerken/
Institution: University of Arizona
Linguistic Field: Phonetics; Phonology; Psycholinguistics; Cognitive Science; Language Acquisition
Abstract: For nearly two decades it has been known that infants' perception of speech sounds is affected by native language input during the first year of life. However, definitive evidence of a mechanism to explain these developmental changes in speech perception has remained elusive. The present study provides the first evidence for such a mechanism, showing that the statistical distribution of phonetic variation in the speech signal influences whether 6- and 8-month-old infants discriminate a pair of speech sounds. We familiarized infants with speech sounds from a phonetic continuum, exhibiting either a bimodal or unimodal frequency distribution. During the test phase, only infants in the bimodal condition discriminated tokens from the endpoints of the continuum. These results demonstrate that infants are sensitive to the statistical distribution of speech sounds in the input language, and that this sensitivity influences speech perception.
Type: Individual Paper
Status: Completed
Publication Info: Cognition, 82 (3), B101-B111


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