Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception Institut Neurosciences Cognition Université Paris Descartes Centre National de Recherche Scientifique
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Word learning and phonetic processing in preschool age children

Consonants and vowels have been shown to play different relative roles in different processes including retrieving known words from pseudowords in adulthood or simultaneously learning two phonetically similar pseudowords in infancy or toddlerhood. The present study explores to what extent 3-to-5-year-old French-speaking children exhibit a so called "consonant bias" in a task simulating word acquisition, that is, when learning new words for unfamiliar objects. In Experiment 1, the to-be-learned words differed both by a consonant and a vowel (e.g., /byf/ and /duf/) and the child had to choose which of the two objects to associate to a third one whose name differed from both objects either by a consonant or a vowel (e.g., /dyf/). In such a conflict condition, the child had to favor (or neglect) either consonant or vowel information. The results show that only 3-year-olds preferentially choose the consonant identity, thus neglecting the vowel change. The older children (and adults) did not exhibit any response bias. In Experiment 2, the child had to pick up one of two objects whose names differed either on consonant or vowel information. While 3-year-olds performed better with pairs of pseudowords contrasting on consonants, the pattern of asymmetry was reversed in 4-year-olds, and 5-year-olds did not exhibit any significant response bias. Interestingly, girls showed overall better performance and exhibited earlier changes in performance than boys. The changes in consonant/vowel asymmetry in preschoolers are discussed in relation with developments in linguistic (lexical and morpho-syntactic) and cognitive processing.



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