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Perception and acquisition of linguistic rhythm by infants

In the present paper, we address the issue of the emergence in infancy of speech segmentation procedures that were found to be specific to rhythmic classes of languages in adulthood. These metrical procedures, which segment fluent speech into its constitutive word sequence, are crucial for the acquisition by infants of the words of their native language. We first present a prosodic bootstrapping proposal according to which the acquisition of these metrical segmentation procedures would be based on an early sensitivity to rhythm (and rhythmic classes). We then review several series of experiments that have studied infants' ability to discriminate languages between birth and 5 months, in an attempt to specify their sensitivity to rhythm and the implication of rhythm perception in the acquisition of these segmentation procedures. The results presented here establish infants' sensitivity to rhythmic classes (from birth onwards). They further show an evolution of infants' language discriminations between birth and 5 months which, though not inconsistent with our proposal, nevertheless call for more studies on the possible implication of rhythm in the acquisition of the metrical segmentation procedures. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2005 APA, all rights reserved) (journal abstract)



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