The development of infants’ responses to mispronunciations: A meta-analysis

Von Holzen, K., & Bergmann, C. (2021). The development of infants’ responses to mispronunciations: A meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology, 57(1), 1-18. doi:10.1037/dev0001141.
As they develop into mature speakers of their native language, infants must not only learn words but also the sounds that make up those words. To do so, they must strike a balance between accepting speaker dependent variation (e.g. mood, voice, accent), but appropriately rejecting variation when it (potentially) changes a word's meaning (e.g. cat vs. hat). This meta-analysis focuses on studies investigating infants' ability to detect mispronunciations in familiar words, or mispronunciation sensitivity. Our goal was to evaluate the development of infants' phonological representations for familiar words as well as explore the role of experimental manipulations related to theoretical questions and analysis choices. The results show that although infants are sensitive to mispronunciations, they still accept these altered forms as labels for target objects. Interestingly, this ability is not modulated by age or vocabulary size, suggesting that a mature understanding of native language phonology may be present in infants from an early age, possibly before the vocabulary explosion. These results also support several theoretical assumptions made in the literature, such as sensitivity to mispronunciation size and position of the mispronunciation. We also shed light on the impact of data analysis choices that may lead to different conclusions regarding the development of infants' mispronunciation sensitivity. Our paper concludes with recommendations for improved practice in testing infants' word and sentence processing on-line.
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