All words are not created equal: expectations about word length guide infant statistical learning.

TitleAll words are not created equal: expectations about word length guide infant statistical learning.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsLew-Williams C, Saffran JR
JournalCognition
Volume122
Issue2
Pagination241-6
Date Published2012 Feb
ISSN1873-7838
KeywordsHumans, Infant, Knowledge, Language, Language Development, Probability Learning, Speech Perception, Transfer (Psychology), Verbal Learning, Vocabulary
Abstract

Infants have been described as 'statistical learners' capable of extracting structure (such as words) from patterned input (such as language). Here, we investigated whether prior knowledge influences how infants track transitional probabilities in word segmentation tasks. Are infants biased by prior experience when engaging in sequential statistical learning? In a laboratory simulation of learning across time, we exposed 9- and 10-month-old infants to a list of either disyllabic or trisyllabic nonsense words, followed by a pause-free speech stream composed of a different set of disyllabic or trisyllabic nonsense words. Listening times revealed successful segmentation of words from fluent speech only when words were uniformly disyllabic or trisyllabic throughout both phases of the experiment. Hearing trisyllabic words during the pre-exposure phase derailed infants' abilities to segment speech into disyllabic words, and vice versa. We conclude that prior knowledge about word length equips infants with perceptual expectations that facilitate efficient processing of subsequent language input.

DOI10.1016/j.cognition.2011.10.007
Alternate JournalCognition
PubMed ID22088408
PubMed Central IDPMC3246061
Grant ListP30 HD003352 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
R01 HD037466-10A1 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
R01 HD037466 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
R01 HD037466-09S1 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
F32 HD069094-01 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
P30HD03352 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
P30 HD003352-44 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
R01HD037466 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
F32 HD069094 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
F32HD069094 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
R37 HD037466 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States