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Adaptation to novel accents by toddlers Katherine S. White and Richard N. Aslin

Summary: PAPER
Adaptation to novel accents by toddlers
Katherine S. White and Richard N. Aslin
Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester, USA
Word recognition is a balancing act: listeners must be sensitive to phonetic detail to avoid confusing similar words, yet, at the
same time, be flexible enough to adapt to phonetically variable pronunciations, such as those produced by speakers of different
dialects or by non-native speakers. Recent work has demonstrated that young toddlers are sensitive to phonetic detail during
word recognition; pronunciations that deviate from the typical phonological form lead to a disruption of processing. However, it
is not known whether young word learners show the flexibility that is characteristic of adult word recognition. The present study
explores whether toddlers can adapt to artificial accents in which there is a vowel category shift with respect to the native
language. Eighteen­twenty-month-olds heard mispronunciations of familiar words (e.g. vowels were shifted from [a] to [ć]:
`dog' pronounced as `dag'). In test, toddlers were tolerant of mispronunciations if they had recently been exposed to the same
vowel shift, but not if they had been exposed to standard pronunciations or other vowel shifts. The effects extended beyond
particular items heard in exposure to words sharing the same vowels. These results indicate that, like adults, toddlers show
flexibility in their interpretation of phonological detail. Moreover, they suggest that effects of top-down knowledge on the
reinterpretation of phonological detail generalize across the phono-lexical system.
Word recognition in adults is remarkably efficient and
resilient, given the variability of the speech signal. Adults


Source: Aslin, Richard N. - Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester


Collections: Biology and Medicine