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Statistical cues affect phonetic discrimination in Dutch infants

By Desiree J.H. Capel


Speech sounds are perceived categorically and this categorical perception is language specific for adult listeners. Infants initially are “universal” listeners, capable of discriminating both native and non-native speech sound contrasts. Before the infant’s\ud first birthday however, non-native speech perception undergoes dramatic changes.\ud Statistical learning is potentially responsible for this change from universal perception to a more language-specific perception. Maye et al. (Cognition (2002)) were the first to show that infants of 6 and 8 months old use the statistical distribution of phonetic variation in learning to discriminate speech sounds. In the present thesis, a replication of this experiment is described in which the statistical learning capacities of 10–11-month-old Dutch infants were studied. The infants were exposed to either a bimodal or a\ud unimodal frequency distribution of an eight-step speech sound continuum based on the Hindi voiced and voiceless retroflex plosives (/Da/ and /Ta/). The results replicate the findings of Maye et al.: only infants who were familiarized with the speech sounds in the bimodal frequency distribution could discriminate the contrast, which suggests that they\ud represent the speech sounds in two categories rather than one. Infants in the unimodal condition could not discriminate the contrast, indicating that they represented the speech sounds in just one category. These findings suggest that statistical cues in the ambient\ud language potentially affect speech perception. The data from the present study provide support for the hypothesis that statistical learning is involved in language acquisition

Topics: Letteren, linguistics, language acquisition, statistical learning, phoneme, speech perception, categorical perception
Year: 2008
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