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Language discrimination by English-learning 5-month-olds: Effects of rhythm and familiarity

Six experiments using the head turn preference procedure investigated 5-mo-old American infants' (aged 135-180 days) ability to discriminate languages. The impetus for the present study was a report that newborns discriminate languages across, but not within, rhythmic classes (T. Nazzi et al, 1998). Two experiments verified that at 5 mo, infants still discriminate pairs of languages from different rhythmic classes (British English vs Japanese; Italian vs Japanese). An additional experiment indicated that American 5-mo-olds did not discriminate 2 languages within a foreign rhythmic class (Italian vs Spanish, syllable-based). Three subsequent experiments tested language discrimination within the native stress-based class. Discrimination of the languages occurred when the native language or one of its variants was presented (British English vs Dutch; American English vs British English), but not when both languages were equally unfamiliar (Dutch vs German). Findings suggest that language discrimination within the native rhythmic class derives from infants' developing knowledge of the sound organization of their native language. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2005 APA, all rights reserved)



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