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Infants' sensitivity to word boundaries in fluent speech*

  • James Myers (a1), Peter W. Jusczyk (a1), Deborah G. Kemler Nelson (a2), Jan Charles-Luce (a1), Amanda L. Woodward (a3) and Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek (a4)...


Infants' sensitivity to word units in fluent speech was examined by inserting 1 sec pauses either at boundaries between successive words (Coincident versions) or between syllables within words (Noncoincident versions). In Experiment 1, 24 11-month-olds listened significantly longer to the Coincident versions. In Experiment 2, 24 four-and-a-half-and 24 nine-month-olds did not exhibit the preference for the Coincident versions that the 11-month-olds showed. When the stimuli were low-pass filtered in Experiment 3, 24 11-month-olds showed no preference for the Coincident versions, suggesting they rely on more than prosodic cues. New stimulus materials in Experiment 4 indicated that responses by 24 11-month-olds to the Coincident and Noncoindent versions did not depend solely on prior familiarity with the targets. Two groups of 30 11-month-olds tested in Experiment 5 were as sensitive to boundaries for Strong/Weak words as for Weak/Strong words. Taken together, the results suggest that, by 11 months, infants are sensitive to word boundaries in fluent speech, and that this sensitivity depends on more than just prosodic information or prior knowledge of the words.


Corresponding author

Department of Psychology, State University of New York at Buffalo, Park Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260, USA.


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The research described in this paper was supported by a research grant from N.I.C.H.D. (HD 15795) to P.W.J. and N.I.D.C.D. (DC 00957) to J.C.L. In addition, J.M. was supported by a Training Grant from N.I.D.C.D. (DC 00036). We thank Lori Kennedy, Nan Koenig, Ann Marie Jusczyk, Tracy Schomberg, Alice Turk and Nancy Redanz for their help in testing the infants, and Eric Bylund and Stephen Yeoh for their assistance in programming. We are also grateful to Paul Luce for his help in computing the phonotactic probabilities reported in Experiment 5. Portions of the research were previously described at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, held in Kansas City, MO and at the 127th Meeting of the Acoustical Society for America, held in Cambridge, MA.



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Infants' sensitivity to word boundaries in fluent speech*

  • James Myers (a1), Peter W. Jusczyk (a1), Deborah G. Kemler Nelson (a2), Jan Charles-Luce (a1), Amanda L. Woodward (a3) and Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek (a4)...


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