15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-15)

Barcelona, Spain
August 3-9, 2003

Language Experience and the Perception of a Voicing Contrast in Fricatives: Infant and Adult Data

Laura Bosch, Nuria Sebastian-Galles

Universitat de Barcelona, Spain

Literature on young infants' discrimination abilities for fricative consonants is controversial. The voicing distinction between /s/ and /z/, a phonemic contrast present in Catalan but not in Spanish, was selected to analyze early discrimination capacities and the effect of language experience in Catalan monolingual, Spanish monolingual and Catalan-Spanish bilingual populations. By 4 months of age discrimination could only be reached in syllable initial position and for monosyllabic stimuli. By 12 months of age, initial sensitivities had been modified and only infants exposed to Catalan showed discrimination. Bilinguals' results are in conflict with a language-experience account and they suggest specific perceptual reorganization processes in simultaneous bilingual exposure. Adult data revealed significant differences in discrimination between individuals exposed early in life to Catalan and those only exposed to Spanish, while Catalan-Spanish bilingual participants did not differ from the Catalan group in the perception of this contrast.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Bosch, Laura / Sebastian-Galles, Nuria (2003): "Language experience and the perception of a voicing contrast in fricatives: infant and adult data", In ICPhS-15, 1987-1990.