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Object labeling influences infant phonetic learning and generalization

abstract Different kinds of speech sounds are used to signify possible word forms in every language. For example, lexical stress is used in Spanish (/‘be.be/, ‘he/she drinks’ versus /be.’be/, ‘baby’), but not in French (/‘be.be/ and /be.’be/ both mean ‘baby’). Infants learn many such native language phonetic contrasts in their first year of life, likely using a number of cues from parental speech input. One such cue could be parents’ object labeling, which can explicitly highlight relevant contrasts. Here we ask whether phonetic learning from object labeling is abstract—that is, if learning can generalize to new phonetic contexts. We investigate this issue in the prosodic domain, as the abstraction of prosodic cues (like lexical stress) has been shown to be particularly difficult. One group of 10-month-old French-learners was given consistent word labels that contrasted on lexical stress (e.g., Object A was labeled /‘ma.bu/, and Object B was labeled /ma.’bu/). Another group of 10-month-olds was given inconsistent word labels (i.e., mixed pairings), and stress discrimination in both groups was measured in a test phase with words made up of new syllables. Infants trained with consistently contrastive labels showed an earlier effect of discrimination compared to infants trained with inconsistent labels. Results indicate that phonetic learning from object labeling can indeed generalize, and suggest one way infants may learn the sound properties of their native language(s). ?



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