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PLoS One. 2014 Jan 8;9(1):e83546. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083546. eCollection 2014.

The edge factor in early word segmentation: utterance-level prosody enables word form extraction by 6-month-olds.

Author information

Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, United States of America.
MARCS Institute and School of Social Sciences and Psychology, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.


Past research has shown that English learners begin segmenting words from speech by 7.5 months of age. However, more recent research has begun to show that, in some situations, infants may exhibit rudimentary segmentation capabilities at an earlier age. Here, we report on four perceptual experiments and a corpus analysis further investigating the initial emergence of segmentation capabilities. In Experiments 1 and 2, 6-month-olds were familiarized with passages containing target words located either utterance medially or at utterance edges. Only those infants familiarized with passages containing target words aligned with utterance edges exhibited evidence of segmentation. In Experiments 3 and 4, 6-month-olds recognized familiarized words when they were presented in a new acoustically distinct voice (male rather than female), but not when they were presented in a phonologically altered manner (missing the initial segment). Finally, we report corpus analyses examining how often different word types occur at utterance boundaries in different registers. Our findings suggest that edge-aligned words likely play a key role in infants' early segmentation attempts, and also converge with recent reports suggesting that 6-month-olds' have already started building a rudimentary lexicon.

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