15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS-15)
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. Eight- month-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.
Bibliographic reference. Shi, Rushen / Werker, Janet F. / Cutler, Anne (2003): "Function words in early speech perception", In ICPhS-15, 3009-3012.