Continuous-speech segmentation at the beginning of language acquisition: Electrophysiological evidence

Kooijman, V. (2007). Continuous-speech segmentation at the beginning of language acquisition: Electrophysiological evidence. PhD Thesis, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen.
Word segmentation, or detecting word boundaries in continuous speech, is not an easy task. Spoken language does not contain silences to indicate word boundaries and words partly overlap due to coarticalution. Still, adults listening to their native language perceive speech as individual words. They are able to combine different distributional cues in the language, such as the statistical distribution of sounds and metrical cues, with lexical information, to efficiently detect word boundaries. Infants in the first year of life do not command these cues. However, already between seven and ten months of age, before they know word meaning, infants learn to segment words from speech. This important step in language acquisition is the topic of this dissertation. In chapter 2, the first Event Related Brain Potential (ERP) study on word segmentation in Dutch ten-month-olds is discussed. The results show that ten-month-olds can already segment words with a strong-weak stress pattern from speech and they need roughly the first half of a word to do so. Chapter 3 deals with segmentation of words beginning with a weak syllable, as a considerable number of words in Dutch do not follow the predominant strong-weak stress pattern. The results show that ten-month-olds still largely rely on the strong syllable in the language, and do not show an ERP response to the initial weak syllable. In chapter 4, seven-month-old infants' segmentation of strong-weak words was studied. An ERP response was found to strong-weak words presented in sentences. However, a behavioral response was not found in an additional Headturn Preference Procedure study. There results suggest that the ERP response is a precursor to the behavioral response that infants show at a later age.
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