Infants’ preference for the predominant stress patterns of English words

Jusczyk, P. W., Cutler, A., & Redanz, N. J. (1993). Infants’ preference for the predominant stress patterns of English words. Child Development, 64, 675-687. Retrieved from
One critical aspect of language acquisition is the development of a lexicon that associates sounds and meanings; but developing a lexicon first requires that the infant segment utterances into individual words. How might the infant begin this process? The present study was designed to examine the potential role that sensitivity to predominant stress patterns of words might play in lexical development. In English, by far the majority of words have stressed (strong) initial syllables. Experiment 1 of our study demonstrated that by 9 months of age American infants listen significantly longer to words with strong/weak stress patterns than to words with weak/strong stress patterns. However, Experiment 2 showed that no significant preferences for the predominant stress pattern appear with 6-month-old infants, which suggests that the preference develops as a result of increasing familiarity with the prosodic features of the native language. In a third experiment, 9-month-olds showed a preference for strong/weak patterns even when the speech input was low-pass filtered, which suggests that their preference is specifically for the prosodic structure of the words. Together the results suggest that attention to predominant stress patterns in the native language may form an important part of the infant's process of developing a lexicon.
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