Function words in early speech perception

Shi, R., Werker, J., & Cutler, A. (2003). Function words in early speech perception. In Proceedings of the 15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (pp. 3009-3012).
Three experiments examined whether infants recognise functors in phrases, and whether their representations of functors are phonetically well specified. Eight- and 13- month-old English infants heard monosyllabic lexical words preceded by real functors (e.g., the, his) versus nonsense functors (e.g., kuh); the latter were minimally modified segmentally (but not prosodically) from real functors. Lexical words were constant across conditions; thus recognition of functors would appear as longer listening time to sequences with real functors. Eightmonth- olds' listening times to sequences with real versus nonsense functors did not significantly differ, suggesting that they did not recognise real functors, or functor representations lacked phonetic specification. However, 13-month-olds listened significantly longer to sequences with real functors. Thus, somewhere between 8 and 13 months of age infants learn familiar functors and represent them with segmental detail. We propose that accumulated frequency of functors in input in general passes a critical threshold during this time.
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