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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 1994 Apr;20(2):421-35.

Developmental changes in perception of nonnative vowel contrasts.

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School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


Discrimination of 2 German vowel contrasts was examined in English-learning infants of 6-8 and 10-12 months of age using a head turn procedure. The younger infants were better able than the older infants to discriminate the nonnative contrasts, but performance at 6-8 months was below levels that have been reported for nonnative consonant contrasts. A 2nd experiment using a habituation looking procedure showed that 4-month-old infants discriminated both German vowel contrasts, but the 6-month-olds could not. The findings are consistent with previous consonant work, revealing a shift from a language-general toward a language-specific pattern during the 1st year of life. However, that shift begins earlier in development for vowels than for consonants.

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