Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception Institut Neurosciences Cognition Université Paris Descartes Centre National de Recherche Scientifique
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Baby Lab

Effect of bilingualism on lexical stress pattern discrimination in French-learning infants

Monolingual infants start learning the prosodic properties of their native language around 6 to 9 months of age, a fact marked by the development of preferences for predominant prosodic patterns and a decrease in sensitivity to non-native prosodic properties. The present study evaluates the effects of bilingual acquisition on speech perception by exploring how stress pattern perception may differ in French-learning 10-month-olds raised in bilingual as opposed to monolingual environments. Experiment 1 shows that monolinguals can discriminate stress patterns following a long familiarization to one of two patterns, but not after a short familiarization. In Experiment 2, two subgroups of bilingual infants growing up learning both French and another language (varying across infants) in which stress is used lexically were tested under the more difficult short familiarization condition: one with balanced input, and one receiving more input in the language other than French. Discrimination was clearly found for the other-language-dominant subgroup, establishing heightened sensitivity to stress pattern contrasts in these bilinguals as compared to monolinguals. However, the balanced bilinguals' performance was not better than that of monolinguals, establishing an effect of the relative balance of the language input. This pattern of results is compatible with the proposal that sensitivity to prosodic contrasts is maintained or enhanced in a bilingual population compared to a monolingual population in which these contrasts are non-native, provided that this dimension is used in one of the two languages in acquisition, and that infants receive enough input from that language.

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