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On the importance of being bilingual: Word stress processing in a context of segmental variability

French-learning infants have language-specific difficulties in processing lexical stress due to the lack of lexical stress in French. These difficulties in discriminating between words with stress-initial (trochaic) and stress-final (iambic) patterns emerge by 10 months of age in the easier context of low variability (using a single item pronounced with a trochaic pattern vs. an iambic pattern) as well as in the more challenging context of high segmental variability (using lists of segmentally different trochaic and iambic items). These findings raise the question of stress pattern perception in simultaneous bilinguals learning French and a second language using stress at the lexical level. Bijeljac-Babic, Serres, Höhle, and Nazzi (2012) established that at 10 months of age, in the simpler context of low variability, such bilinguals have better stress discrimination abilities than French-learning monolinguals. The current study explored whether this advantage extends to the more challenging context of high segmental variability. Results first establish stress pattern discrimination in a group of bilingual 10-month-olds learning French and one language with (variable) lexical stress, but not in French-learning 10-month-old monolinguals. Second, discrimination in bilinguals appeared not to be affected by the language balance of the infants, suggesting that sensitivity to stress patterns might be maintained in these bilingual infants provided that they hear at least 30% of a language with lexical stress.



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