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Infants' acceptance of phonotactically illegal word forms as object labels*



We investigated 16- and 20-month-olds' flexibility in mapping phonotactically illegal words to objects. Using an associative word-learning task, infants were presented with a training phase that either highlighted or did not highlight the referential status of a novel label. Infants were then habituated to two novel objects, each paired with a phonotactically illegal Czech word. When referential cues were provided, 16-, but not 20-month-olds, formed word–object mappings. In the absence of referential cues, infants of both ages failed to map the novel words. These findings illustrate the complex interplay between infants' developing sound system and their word learning abilities.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: S. Graham, Dept. of Psychology, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB T2N 1N4 Canada; e-mail:


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This research was supported by funding from SSHRC awarded to SC and SG, and funding from the Canada Research Chairs program, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation awarded to SG. EV was supported by a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. We thank the parents and infants who participated, as well as Heather MacKenzie, Michelle Zepeda, Patrick Mihalicz, Erin Dodd, and Regina Huh for their assistance with this research.



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