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

Barcelona, Spain
August 3-9, 2003


Function Words in Early Speech Perception

Rushen Shi (1), Janet F. Werker (2), Anne Cutler (3)

(1) Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada
(2) University of British Columbia, Canada
(3) Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, The Netherlands

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.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Shi, Rushen / Werker, Janet F. / Cutler, Anne (2003): "Function words in early speech perception", In ICPhS-15, 3009-3012.