Rhythmic Grouping Biases Constrain Infant Statistical Learning

Authors


should be sent to Jessica F. Hay, Department of Psychology, University of Tennessee – Knoxville, 1404 Circle Drive, Knoxville, TN 37996. E-mail: jhay@tennessee.edu

Abstract

Linguistic stress and sequential statistical cues to word boundaries interact during speech segmentation in infancy. However, little is known about how the different acoustic components of stress constrain statistical learning. The current studies were designed to investigate whether intensity and duration each function independently as cues to initial prominence (trochaic-based hypothesis) or whether, as predicted by the Iambic-Trochaic Law (ITL), intensity and duration have characteristic and separable effects on rhythmic grouping (ITL-based hypothesis) in a statistical learning task. Infants were familiarized with an artificial language (Experiments 1 and 3) or a tone stream (Experiment 2) in which there was an alternation in either intensity or duration. In addition to potential acoustic cues, the familiarization sequences also contained statistical cues to word boundaries. In speech (Experiment 1) and nonspeech (Experiment 2) conditions, 9-month-old infants demonstrated discrimination patterns consistent with an ITL-based hypothesis: intensity signaled initial prominence and duration signaled final prominence. The results of Experiment 3, in which 6.5-month-old infants were familiarized with the speech streams from Experiment 1, suggest that there is a developmental change in infants’ willingness to treat increased duration as a cue to word offsets in fluent speech. Infants’ perceptual systems interact with linguistic experience to constrain how infants learn from their auditory environment.

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