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Cognition. 2008 Apr;107(1):238-65. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2007.11.012. Epub 2008 Jan 14.

Rapid acquisition of phonological alternations by infants.

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Brown University, Providence, RI, USA.


We explore whether infants can learn novel phonological alternations on the basis of distributional information. In Experiment 1, two groups of 12-month-old infants were familiarized with artificial languages whose distributional properties exhibited either stop or fricative voicing alternations. At test, infants in the two exposure groups had different preferences for novel sequences involving voiced and voiceless stops and fricatives, suggesting that each group had internalized a different familiarization alternation. In Experiment 2, 8.5-month-olds exhibited the same patterns of preference. In Experiments 3 and 4, we investigated whether infants' preferences were driven solely by preferences for sequences of high transitional probability. Although 8.5-month-olds in Experiment 3 were sensitive to the relative probabilities of sequences in the familiarization stimuli, only 12-month-olds in Experiment 4 showed evidence of having grouped alternating segments into a single functional category. Taken together, these results suggest a developmental trajectory for the acquisition of phonological alternations using distributional cues in the input.

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