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J Child Lang. 1993 Jun;20(2):229-52.

Perceptual strategies in prelingual speech segmentation.

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University of Washington.


Previous work has suggested that infants may segment continuous speech by a BRACKETING STRATEGY that segregates portions of the speech stream based on prosodic cues to their endpoints. The two present studies were designed to assess whether infants also can deploy a CLUSTERING STRATEGY that exploits asymmetries in transitional probabilities between successive elements, aggregating elements with high transitional probabilities and identifying points of low transitional probabilities as boundaries between units. These studies examined effects of the structure and redundancy of speech context on infants' discrimination of two target syllables using an operant head-turning procedure. After discrimination training on the target syllables in isolation, discrimination maintenance was tested when the target syllables were embedded in one of three contexts. Invariant Order contexts were structured to promote clustering, whereas the Redundant and Variable Order contexts were not. Thirty-six seven-month-olds were tested in Experiment I, in which stimuli were produced with varying intonation contours; 36 eight-month-olds were tested in Experiment 2, in which stimuli were produced with comparable flat pitch contours. In both experiments, performance of the three groups was equivalent in an initial 20-trial test. However, in a second 20-trial test, significant improvements in performance were shown by infants in the Invariant Order condition. No such gains were shown by infants in the other two conditions. These studies suggest that clustering may complement bracketing in infants' discovery of units of language.

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