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Development of categorical identification of native and non-native bilabial stops: infants, children and adults

  • Denis K. Burnham (a1), Lynda J. Earnshaw (a1) and John E. Clark (a2)


Using an infant speech identification (ISI) procedure, English language environment infants, two- and six-year-old children, and adults were tested for their identification of sounds on a native (voiced/voiceless bilabial stop) and a non-native (prevoiced/voiced bilabial stop) speech continuum. Categorical perception of the two contrasts diverged as a function of age, increasing for the native contrast and decreasing for the non-native between two and six years. In Experiment 2, subjects of the same four ages were tested for their identification of a continuum of harmonic tones varying in pitch. Comparison of the results of Experiment i with the essentially continuous perception of this pitch continuum supports the view that the perception of the native contrast becomes more categorical with age, while perception of the non-native contrast becomes less categorical, especially at six years. Experiment 3, in which adults were tested on the three continua with a multi-trial open set procedure, demonstrated that results with the ISI procedure in Experiments 1 and 2 are comparable to results with more traditional methods. The results of the three experiments are discussed in terms of the role of specific linguistic experience in the development of categorical speech perception.


Corresponding author

Infant Research Centre, School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Kensington, Sydney, 2033, Australia.


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