Phonological Specificity in 12- and 17-Month-Old French-Speaking Infants


should be sent to Pascal Zesiger, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Geneva, 40, Boulevard du Pont-d’Arve, 1211 Genève 4, Switzerland. E-mail:


The literature reports some contradictory results on the degree of phonological specificity of infants’ early lexical representations in the Romance language, French, and Germanic languages. It is not clear whether these discrepancies are because of differences in method, in language characteristics, or in participants’ age. In this study, we examined whether 12- and 17-month-old French-speaking infants are able to distinguish well-pronounced from mispronounced words (one or two features of their initial consonant). To this end, 46 infants participated in a preferential looking experiment in which they were presented with pairs of pictures together with a spoken word well pronounced or mispronounced. The results show that both 12- and 17-month-old infants look longer at the pictures corresponding to well-pronounced words than to mispronounced words, but show no difference between the two mispronunciation types. These results suggest that, as early as 12 months, French-speaking infants, like those exposed to Germanic languages, already possess detailed phonological representations of familiar words.