Skip to main content Accessibility help

Infant-directed speech facilitates lexical learning in adults hearing Chinese: implications for language acquisition*

  • Roberta Michnick Golinkoff (a1) and Anthony Alioto (a1)


Experiments 1 and 2 examined the effects of infant-directed (ID) speech on adults' ability to learn an individual target word in sentences in an unfamiliar, non-Western language (Chinese). English-speaking adults heard pairs of sentences read by a female, native Chinese speaker in either ID or adult-directed (AD) speech. The pairs of sentences described slides of 10 common objects. The Chinese name for the object (the target word) was placed in an utterance-final position in experiment? (n= 61) and in a medial position in experiment 2 (n= 79). At test, each Chinese target word was presented in isolation in AD speech in a recognition task. Only subjects who heard ID speech with the target word in utterance-final position demonstrated learning of the target words. The results support assertions that ID speech, which tends to put target words in sentence-final position, may assist infants in segmenting and remembering portions of the linguistic stream. In experiment 3 (n= 23), subjects judged whether each of the ID and AD speech samples prepared for experiments ? and 2 were directed to an adult or to an infant. Judgements were above chance for two types of sentence: ID speech with the target word in the final position and AD speech with the target word in a medial position. In addition to indirectly confirming the results of experiments 1 and 2, these findings suggest that at least some of the prosodic features which comprise ID speech in Chinese and English must overlap.


Corresponding author

Department of Educational Studies, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware 19716, USA. E-mail:


Hide All

The pilot version of these studies was conducted as an honours thesis completed by the second author under the supervision of the first author. We wish to thank Tim Konoid and Betty McGrath for their statistical assistance, Steven Hoskins for the acoustic analyses, and Wenjun Ruan and Jenny Wong for their help in producing the stimulus tapes. We also thank the Honours Program at the University of Delaware and, in particular, Dr Joan Bennett, for their support. Peter Jusczyk gave us excellent comments on an earlier draft. Alioto is presently at Kent State University.



Hide All
Adamson, L. B. & Bakeman, R. (1991). The development of shared attention during infancy. In Vasta, R. (ed.), Annals of child development, Volume 8. London: Kingsley.
Akhtar, N., Dunham, F. & Dunham, P. J. (1991). Directive interactions and early vocabulary development: the role of joint attentional focus. Journal of Child Language 18, 41–9.
Aslin, R. N. (1992). Segmentation of fluent speech into words: learning models and the role of maternal input. In de Boysson-Bardies, B., Schonen, S., Jusczyk, P., MacNeilage, P. & Morton, J. (eds), Developmental neurocognition: speech and face processing in the first year of life. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Beach, C. M. (1991). The interpretation of prosodic patterns at points of syntactic structure ambiguity: evidence for cue trading relations. Journal of Memory and Language 30, 644–63.
Bernstein-Ratner, N. (1986). Durational cues which mark clause boundaries in mother-child speech. Journal of Phonetics 14, 303–9.
Bock, J. K. & Mazzella, J. R. (1983). Intonational marking of given and new information: some consequences for comprehension. Memory and Cognition 11, 6476.
Brown, G. (1983). Prosodic structure and the given/new distinction. In Cutler, A. & Ladd, D. R. (eds), Prosody: models and measurements. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
Cole, R. & Jakimik, J. (1980). A model of speech perception. In Cole, R. (ed.), Perception and production affluent speech. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Cooper, R. P. & Aslin, R. N. (1990). Preference for infant-directed speech in the first month after birth. Child Development 61, 1584–95.
Cooper, W. E. & Paccia-Cooper, J. (1980). Syntax and speech. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Cutler, A. & Butterfield, S. (1992). Rhythmic cues to speech segmentation: evidence from juncture misperception. Journal of Memory and Language 31, 281–36.
Fernald, A. (1985). Four-month-old infants prefer to listen to motherese. Infant Behavior and Development 8, 181–95.
Fernald, A. (1989). Intonation and communicative intent in mothers' speech to infants: is the melody the message? Child Development 60, 1497–510.
Fernald, A. (1991). Prosody in speech to children: prelinguistic and linguistic functions. In Vasta, R. (ed.), Annals of child development, Vol. 8. London: Kingsley.
Fernald, A. & Mazzie, C. (1991). Prosody and focus in speech to infants and adults. Developmental Psychology 27, 209–21.
Fernald, A., McRoberts, G. & Herrera, C. (in press). Effects of prosody and word position on lexical comprehension in infants. Journal of Experimental Psychology.
Fernald, A. & Morikawa, H. (1993). Common themes and cultural variations in Japanese and American mothers' speech to infants. Child Development 64, 637–56.
Fernald, A., Taeschner, T., Dunn, J., Papousek, M., de Boysson-Bardies, B. & Fukui, I. (1989). A cross-language study of prosodic modifications in mothers' and fathers' speech to preverbal infants. Journal of Child Language 16, 477501.
Gleitman, L. R., Gleitman, H., Landau, B. & Wanner, E. (1987). Where learning begins: initial representations for language learning. In Newmeyer, F. (ed.), Linguistics: The Cambridge Survey, Vol. 3. New York: C.U.P.
Goldfield, B. A. (1993). Noun bias in maternal speech to one-year-olds. Journal of Child Language 20, 8599.
Goldfield, B. A. & Reznick, S. J. (1990). Early lexical acquisition: rate, content, and the vocabulary spurt. Journal of Child Language 17, 171–83.
Golinkoff, R. M., Alioto, A., Hirsh-Pasek, K. & Kaufman, D. (1992). Infants learn lexical items better in infant-directed than in adult-directed speech. Boston Child Language Conference.
Grieser, D. L. & Kuhl, P. K. (1988). Maternal speech to infants in a tonal language: support for universal prosodic features in motherese. Developmental Psychology 24, 1420.
Hirsh-Pasek, K. & Golinkoff, R. M. (1993). Skeletal supports for grammatical learning: what the infant brings to the language learning task. Advances in infancy research, Vol. 8. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Hirsh-Pasek, K., Kemler Nelson, D., Jusczyk, P., Cassidy, K., Druss, B. & Kennedy, L. (1987). Clauses are perceptual units for young infants. Cognition 26, 269–86.
Hoff-Ginsburg, E. (1990). Maternal speech and the child's development of syntax: a further look. Journal of Child Language 17, 8599.
Hoff-Ginsburg, E. & Shatz, M. (1982). Linguistic input and the child's acquisition of language. Psychological Bulletin 92, 336.
Jusczyk, P. W. (1989). Perception of cues to clausal units in native and non-native languages. Paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Kansas City, MO.
Jusczyk, P. W., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Kemler Nelson, D. G., Kennedy, L., Woodward, A. & Piwoz, J. (1992). Perception of acoustic correlates of major phrasal units by young infants. Cognitive Psychology 24, 252–93.
Karzon, R. G. (1985). Discrimination of polysyllabic sequences by one- to four-month-old infants. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 39, 326–42.
Kemler Nelson, D. G., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Jusczyk, P. W. & Wright Cassidy, K. (1989). How the prosodic cues in motherese might assist language learning. Journal of Child Language 16, 5368.
Lederer, A. & Kelly, M. (1991). Prosodic correlates to the adjunct/complement distinction in motherese. Papers and Reports in Child Language 30.
Lehiste, I. (1973). Phonetic disambiguation of syntactic ambiguity. Glossa 7, 107–22.
Masur, E. F. (1982). Mothers' responses to infants' object-related gestures: influences on lexical development. Journal of Child Language 9, 2330.
Morgan, J. (1986). From simple input to complex grammar. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Morgan, J. L., Meier, R. P. & Newport, E. L. (1987). Structural packaging in the input to language learning: contributions of prosodic and morphological marking of phrases to the acquisition of language. Cognitive Psychology 19, 498550.
Newport, E. (1991). Contrasting conceptions of the critical period for language. In Carey, S. & Gelman, R. (eds), The epigenesis of mind: essays on biology and cognition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Newport, E., Gleitman, L. & Gleitman, H. (1977). ‘Mother, I'd rather do it myself’: some effects and non-effects of motherese. In Snow, C. & Ferguson, C. (eds), Talking to children: language input and acquisition. Cambridge: C. U. P.
Pilon, R. (1981). Segmentation of speech in a foreign language. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 10, 113–22.
Repp, B. H. (1982). Phonetic trading relations and context effects: new experimental evidence for a speech mode of perception. Psychological Bulletin 92, 81110.
Santarcangelo, S. & Dyer, K. (1988). Prosodic aspects of motherese: effects on gaze and responsiveness in developmentally disabled children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 46, 406–18.
Slobin, D. I. (1985). Crosslinguistic evidence for the language-making capacity. In Slobin, D. I. (ed.), The crosslinguistic study of language acquisition, Vol. II. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Smith, C. B., Adamson, L. B. & Bakeman, R. (1988). Interactional predictors of early language. First Language 8, 143–56.
Speer, S. R., Crowder, R. G. & Thomas, L. M. (1993). Prosodic structure and sentence recognition. Journal of Memory and Language 32, 336–58.
Tomasello, M. (1988). The role of joint attentional processes in early language development. Language Sciences 10, 6988.
Tomasello, M. & Farrar, M. J. (1986). Joint attention and early language. Child Development 57, 1454–63.
Trehub, S. E., Unyk, A. M. & Trainor, L. J. (1993). Maternal singing in cross-cultural perspective. Infant Behavior and Development 16, 285–95.
Van Riper, C. (1950). Teaching your child to talk. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers.
Wakefield, J. R., Donghtie, E. B. & Yom, B.-H. L. (1974). The identification of structural components of an unknown language. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 3, 261–9.
Werker, J. F. & McLeod, P. J. (1989). Infant preference for both male and female infant-directed talk: a developmental study of attentional and affective responsiveness. Canadian Journal of Psychology 43, 230–46.
Wolff, P. H. (1963). Observations on the early development of smiling. In Foss, B. M. (ed.), Determinants of infant behavior, II. London: Methuen.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Infant-directed speech facilitates lexical learning in adults hearing Chinese: implications for language acquisition*

  • Roberta Michnick Golinkoff (a1) and Anthony Alioto (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.