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Early language experience and underspecified phonological representations

  • Cynthia R. Hunter (a1) and David B. Pisoni (a1)


Taking as a premise that phonological working memory (PWM) influences later language development, in their keynote article, Pierce, Genesee, Delcenserie, and Morgan aim to specify the relations between early language input and the development of PWM in terms of separable influences of timing, quantity, and quality of early language input. We concur that prior work has established that PWM and language development have reciprocal influences on one another during development (e.g., Baddeley, Gathercole, & Papagno, 1998; Gathercole, 2006; Gathercole, Hitch, Service, & Martin, 1997; Metsala & Chisolm, 2010). The goal of the keynote article was to describe how early language experience may influence the development of PWM. Pierce et al. argue that this can be done by comparing the development of PWM across groups of children with differing language experiences during early childhood, specifically (a) delayed exposure to language, (b) impoverished language input, or (c) enriched language input. The authors suggest that this comparison may contribute to establishing that individual differences in PWM are due, in part, to early language experience. Sensitive periods for phonological development that are open roughly in the first year of life are discussed, and it is suggested that the quantity and quality of early language input shapes the quality of phonological representations. Efforts to specify mechanisms by which early language input may influence the development of PWM have both theoretical and, potentially, clinical importance. Considering this, Pierce et al.’s article, which aims to create a platform for future research in terms of the timing, quantity, and quality of early language input, is a valuable contribution.



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