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Percept Psychophys. 1999 Nov;61(8):1465-76.

Infants' sensitivity to allophonic cues for word segmentation.

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Department of Psychology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.


A series of four experiments was conducted to determine whether English-learning infants can use allophonic cues to word boundaries to segment words from fluent speech. Infants were familiarized with a pair of two-syllable items, such as nitrates and night rates and then were tested on their ability to detect these same words in fluent speech passages. The presence of allophonic cues to word boundaries did not help 9-month-olds to distinguish one of the familiarized words from an acoustically similar foil. Infants familiarized with nitrates were just as likely to listen to a passage about night rates as they were to listen to one about nitrates. Nevertheless, when the passages contained distributional cues that favored the extraction of the familiarized targets, 9-month-olds were able to segment these items from fluent speech. By the age of 10.5 months, infants were able to rely solely on allophonic cues to locate the familiarized target words in passages. We consider what implications these findings have for understanding how word segmentation skills develop.

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