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Infant word segmentation and childhood vocabulary development: a longitudinal analysis


Leher Singh, Department of Psychology, National University of Singapore, Block AS 4, Level 2, 9 Arts Link, Singapore 117570, Singapore; e-mail:


Infants begin to segment novel words from speech by 7.5 months, demonstrating an ability to track, encode and retrieve words in the context of larger units. Although it is presumed that word recognition at this stage is a prerequisite to constructing a vocabulary, the continuity between these stages of development has not yet been empirically demonstrated. The goal of the present study is to investigate whether infant word segmentation skills are indeed related to later lexical development. Two word segmentation tasks, varying in complexity, were administered in infancy and related to childhood outcome measures. Outcome measures consisted of age-normed productive vocabulary percentiles and a measure of cognitive development. Results demonstrated a strong degree of association between infant word segmentation abilities at 7 months and productive vocabulary size at 24 months. In addition, outcome groups, as defined by median vocabulary size and growth trajectories at 24 months, showed distinct word segmentation abilities as infants. These findings provide the first prospective evidence supporting the predictive validity of infant word segmentation tasks and suggest that they are indeed associated with mature word knowledge.

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