Spoken word recognition and lexical representation in very young children

Swingley, D., & Aslin, R. N. (2000). Spoken word recognition and lexical representation in very young children. Cognition, 76, 147-166. doi:10.1016/S0010-0277(00)00081-0.
Although children's knowledge of the sound patterns of words has been a focus of debate for many years, little is known about the lexical representations very young children use in word recognition. In particular, researchers have questioned the degree of specificity encoded in early lexical representations. The current study addressed this issue by presenting 18–23-month-olds with object labels that were either correctly pronounced, or mispronounced. Mispronunciations involved replacement of one segment with a similar segment, as in ‘baby–vaby’. Children heard sentences containing these words while viewing two pictures, one of which was the referent of the sentence. Analyses of children's eye movements showed that children recognized the spoken words in both conditions, but that recognition was significantly poorer when words were mispronounced. The effects of mispronunciation on recognition were unrelated to age or to spoken vocabulary size. The results suggest that children's representations of familiar words are phonetically well-specified, and that this specification may not be a consequence of the need to differentiate similar words in production.
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