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Lexical stress and phonetic processing in word learning in 20-to-24-month-old English-learning children

To investigate the interaction between segmental and supra-segmental stress-related information in early word learning, two experiments were conducted with 20-to-24-month-old English-learning children. In an adaptation of the object categorisation study designed by Nazzi and Gopnik (2001), children were presented with pairs of novel objects whose labels differed by their initial consonant (Experiment 1) or their medial consonant (Experiment 2). Words were produced with a stress initial (trochaic) or a stress final (iambic) pattern. In both experiments successful word learning was established when the to-be-remembered contrast was embedded in a stressed syllable, but not in unstressed syllables. This was independent of the overall word pattern, trochaic or iambic, or the location of the phonemic contrast, word initial or medial. Results are discussed in light of the use of phonetic information in early lexical acquisition, highlighting the role of lexical stress and ambisyllabicity in early word processing.



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