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Cross-linguistic differences in early word form segmentation: a rhythmic-based account

The present paper reviews recent studies on the early segmentation of word forms from fluent speech. After having exposed the importance of this issue from a developmental point of view, we summarize studies conducted on this issue with American English-learning infants. These studies show that segmentation abilities emerge around 8 months, develop during the following months, and rely on infants’ processing of various word boundary cues the relative weight of which changes across development. Given that these studies show that infants mostly use cues that are specific to the language they are acquiring, we underline that the development of these abilities should vary cross-linguistically, and raise the issue of the developmental origin of segmentation abilities. We then offer one solution to both the crosslinguistic differences (also observed in adulthood) and bootstrapping issues in the form of the early rhythmic segmentation hypothesis. This hypothesis states that infants rely on the underlying rhythmic unit of their native language at the onset of segmentation abilities: the trochaic unit for stress-based languages, the syllable for syllable-based languages. After the presentation of various elements on which this hypothesis relies, we present recent data on French infants offering a first validation of this proposal.



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