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Cogn Psychol. 2011 Sep;63(2):93-106. doi: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2011.06.002. Epub 2011 Jul 16.

Linking sounds to meanings: infant statistical learning in a natural language.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA.


The processes of infant word segmentation and infant word learning have largely been studied separately. However, the ease with which potential word forms are segmented from fluent speech seems likely to influence subsequent mappings between words and their referents. To explore this process, we tested the link between the statistical coherence of sequences presented in fluent speech and infants' subsequent use of those sequences as labels for novel objects. Notably, the materials were drawn from a natural language unfamiliar to the infants (Italian). The results of three experiments suggest that there is a close relationship between the statistics of the speech stream and subsequent mapping of labels to referents. Mapping was facilitated when the labels contained high transitional probabilities in the forward and/or backward direction (Experiment 1). When no transitional probability information was available (Experiment 2), or when the internal transitional probabilities of the labels were low in both directions (Experiment 3), infants failed to link the labels to their referents. Word learning appears to be strongly influenced by infants' prior experience with the distribution of sounds that make up words in natural languages.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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