Newborn categorization of vowel-like sounds


Michelle Aldridge UTD Callier Center, 1966 Inwood Road, Dallas, TX75235, USA; e-mail:


While there are many theories of the development of speech perception, there are few data on speech perception in human newborns. This paper examines the manner in which newborns responded to a set of stimuli that define one surface of the adult vowel space. Experiment 1 used a preferential listening/habituation paradigm to discover how newborns divide that vowel space. Results indicated that there were zones of high preference flanked by zones of low preference. The zones of high preference approximately corresponded to areas where adults readily identify vowels. Experiment 2 presented newborns with pairs of vowels from the zones found in Experiment 1. One member of each pair was the most preferred vowel from a zone, and the other member was the least preferred vowel from the adjacent zone of low preference. The pattern of preference was preserved in Experiment 2. However, a comparison of Experiments 1 and 2 indicated that habituation had occurred in Experiment 1. Experiment 3 tested the hypothesis that the habituation seen in Experiment 1 was due to processes of categorization, by using a familiarization preference paradigm. The results supported the hypothesis that newborns categorized the vowel space in an adult-like manner, with vowels perceived as relatively good or poor exemplars of a vowel category.