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Baby Lab

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Infants discriminate voicing and place of articulation with reduced spectral and temporal modulation cues

Purpose: This study assessed the role of spectro-temporal modulation cues in the discrimination of two phonetic contrasts (voicing and place) for young infants. Method: A visual-habituation procedure was used to assess the ability of French-learning 6-month-old infants with normal hearing to discriminate voiced versus unvoiced (/aba/-/apa/) and labial versus dental (/aba/-/ada/) stop consonants. The stimuli were processed by tone-excited vocoders to degrade frequency-modulation (FM) cues while preserving: 1) amplitude-modulation (AM) cues within 32 analysis frequency bands, 2) slow AM cues only (<16 Hz) within 32 bands, and 3) AM cues within 8 bands. Results: Infants exhibited discrimination responses for both phonetic contrasts in each processing condition. However, when fast AM cues were degraded, infants required a longer exposure to vocoded stimuli to reach the habituation criterion. Conclusions: Altogether, these results indicate that the processing of modulation cues conveying phonetic information on voicing and place is “functional” at 6 months. The data also suggest that the perceptual weight of fast AM speech cues may change during development.



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