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French native speakers in the making: from language-general to language-specific voicing boundaries.

By examining VOT discrimination in four and eight-month-old infants raised in a French-speaking environment, the present study addresses the question of the role played by linguistic experience in the reshaping of the initial perceptual abilities. Results showed that the language-general -30 and +30 ms VOT boundaries are better discriminated than the 0 ms boundary in four-month-old infants whereas eight-month-olds better discriminate the 0 ms boundary. These data support explanations of speech development stressing the effects of both language-general boundaries and linguistic environment (Attunement theory: Aslin & Pisoni, 1980; Coupling theory: Serniclaes, 2000). Results also suggest that the acquisition of the adult voicing boundary (at 0 ms VOT in French vs. +30 ms in English) is faster and more linear in French vs. English. This latter aspect of the results might be related to differences in the consistency of VOT distributions of voiced and voiceless stops between languages.