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Trends Cogn Sci. 1999 Sep;3(9):323-328.

How infants begin to extract words from speech.

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Departments of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Ames Hall, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218-2686, USA.


A crucial step for acquiring a native language vocabulary is the ability to segment words from fluent speech. English-learning infants first display some ability to segment words at about 7.5 months of age. However, their initial attempts at segmenting words only approximate those of fluent speakers of the language. In particular, 7.5-month-old infants are able to segment words that conform to the predominant stress pattern of English words. The ability to segment words with other stress patterns appears to require the use of other sources of information about word boundaries. By 10.5 months, English learners display sensitivity to additional cues to word boundaries such as statistical regularities, allophonic cues and phonotactic patterns. Infants' word segmentation abilities undergo further development during their second year when they begin to link sound patterns with particular meanings. By 24 months, the speed and accuracy with which infants recognize words in fluent speech is similar to that of native adult listeners. This review describes how infants use multiple sources of information to locate word boundaries in fluent speech, thereby laying the foundations for language understanding.


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