The effect of pitch enhancement on spoken language acquisition

Filippi, P., Gingras, B., & Fitch, W. T. (2014). The effect of pitch enhancement on spoken language acquisition. In E. A. Cartmill, S. Roberts, H. Lyn, & H. Crnish (Eds.), The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 10th International Conference (pp. 437-438). doi:10.1142/9789814603638_0082.
The aim of this study is to investigate the word-learning phenomenon utilizing a new model that integrates three processes: a) extracting a word out of a continuous sounds sequence, b) inducing referential meanings, c) mapping a word onto its intended referent, with the possibility to extend the acquired word over a potentially infinite sets of objects of the same semantic category, and over not-previously-heard utterances. Previous work has examined the role of statistical learning and/or of prosody in each of these processes separately. In order to examine the multilayered word-learning task, we integrate these two strands of investigation into a single approach. We have conducted the study on adults and included six different experimental conditions, each including specific perceptual manipulations of the signal. In condition 1, the only cue to word-meaning mapping was the co-occurrence between words and referents (“statistical cue”). This cue was present in all the conditions. In condition 2, we added infant-directed-speech (IDS) typical pitch enhancement as a marker of the target word and of the statistical cue. In condition 3 we placed IDS typical pitch enhancement on random words of the utterances, i.e. inconsistently matching the statistical cue. In conditions 4, 5 and 6 we manipulated respectively duration, a non-prosodic acoustic cue and a visual cue as markers of the target word and of the statistical cue. Systematic comparisons between learning performance in condition 1 with the other conditions revealed that the word-learning process is facilitated only when pitch prominence consistently marks the target word and the statistical cue…
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