Article  |   April 2012
Infants Exposed to Fluent Natural Speech Succeed at Cross-Gender Word Recognition
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Marieke van Heugten
    University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • Elizabeth K. Johnson
    University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • Correspondence to Elizabeth K. Johnson: elizabeth.johnson@utoronto.ca
  • Editor and Associate Editor: Anne Smith
    Editor and Associate Editor: Anne Smith×
  • © 2012 American Speech-Language-Hearing AssociationAmerican Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosody / Speech
Article   |   April 2012
Infants Exposed to Fluent Natural Speech Succeed at Cross-Gender Word Recognition
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, April 2012, Vol. 55, 554-560. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2011/10-0347)
History: Received December 11, 2010 , Accepted July 30, 2011
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, April 2012, Vol. 55, 554-560. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2011/10-0347)
History: Received December 11, 2010; Accepted July 30, 2011
Web of Science® Times Cited: 7

Purpose: To examine the possibility that early signal-to-word form mapping capabilities are robust enough to handle substantial indexical variation in the realization of words.

Method: Two groups of 7.5-month-olds were tested with the Headturn Preference Procedure. Half of the infants were exposed to words embedded in passages spoken by their mothers and tested on lists of trained and novel isolated words spoken by their fathers. The other half of the infants were yoked pairs listening to unfamiliar speakers.

Results: In the test phase, infants listened longer to trained than to novel words, indicating that they successfully segmented the words from the passages. This result was not modulated by infants' familiarity with the speaker.

Conclusions: Under more naturalistic listening conditions, 7.5-month-olds exhibit the ability to recognize words in the face of substantial indexical variation regardless of whether speakers are familiar. This suggests that early word representations are, at least to some extent, independent of the speaker’s gender and may reflect sophisticated abstraction capabilities on the part of the infants, which would render extreme episodic models of early speech perception untenable. Additional research using similarly ecologically valid testing methods is called for to elucidate the precise nature of early word representations.

Acknowledgments
This research was supported by a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and by a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, both awarded to the second author, and by a Prins Bernhard Cultuurfondsbeurs grant, awarded to the first author. We thank the members of the Infant Language and Speech Lab for their assistance in running this study, Huiwen Goy for insightful comments on earlier versions of this article, and Derek Houston for the suggestion that partners' long-term vocal convergence may lead to greater acoustic similarity of the two partners' voices. Portions of this work were presented at the Annual Conference of the Canadian Acoustical Association (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, 2009) and the 17th International Conference on Infant Studies (Baltimore, Maryland, 2010).
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