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Abstract

Can infants, in the very first stages of word learning, use their perceptual sensitivity to the phonetics of speech while learning words? Research to date suggests that infants of 14 months cannot learn two similar-sounding words unless there is substantial contextual support. The current experiment advances our understanding of this failure by testing whether the source of infants’ difficulty lies in the learning or testing phase. Infants were taught to associate two similar-sounding words with two different objects, and tested using a visual choice method rather than the standard Switch task. The results reveal that 14-month-olds are capable of learning and mapping two similar-sounding labels; they can apply phonetic detail in new words. The findings are discussed in relation to infants’ concurrent failure, and the developmental transition to success, in the Switch task.