Segmentation problems, rhythmic solutions

Cutler, A. (1993). Segmentation problems, rhythmic solutions. Lingua, 92, 81-104. doi:10.1016/0024-3841(94)90338-7.
The lexicon contains discrete entries, which must be located in speech input in order for speech to be understood; but the continuity of speech signals means that lexical access from spoken input involves a segmentation problem for listeners. The speech environment of prelinguistic infants may not provide special information to assist the infant listeners in solving this problem. Mature language users in possession of a lexicon might be thought to be able to avoid explicit segmentation of speech by relying on information from successful lexical access; however, evidence from adult perceptual studies indicates that listeners do use explicit segmentation procedures. These procedures differ across languages and seem to exploit language-specific rhythmic structure. Efficient as these procedures are, they may not have been developed in response to statistical properties of the input, because bilinguals, equally competent in two languages, apparently only possess one rhythmic segmentation procedure. The origin of rhythmic segmentation may therefore lie in the infant's exploitation of rhythm to solve the segmentation problem and gain a first toehold on lexical acquisition. Recent evidence from speech production and perception studies with prelinguistic infants supports the claim that infants are sensitive to rhythmic structure and its relationship to lexical segmentation.
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