Article first published online: 7 SEP 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2012.01186.x
Previous work has shown that preterm infants are at higher risk for cognitive/language delays than full-term infants. Recent studies, focusing on prosody (i.e. rhythm, intonation), have suggested that prosodic perception development in preterms is indexed by maturational rather than postnatal/listening age. However, because prosody is heard in-utero, and preterms thus lose significant amounts of prenatal prosodic experience, both their maturation level and their prosodic experience (listening age) are shorter than that of full-terms for the same postnatal age. This confound does not apply to the acquisition of phonetics/phonotactics (i.e., identity and order of consonants/vowels), given that consonant differences in particular are only perceived after birth, which could lead to a different developmental pattern. The present results establish that preterm developmental timing for consonant-based phonotactic acquisition is based on listening age (experience with input), raising the possibility that different constraints apply to the acquisition of different phonological subcomponents.