Prelinguistic Developments A Speech Perception

Infants come into the world prepared to acquire language. At birth they are able to distinguish speech from other sounds and, indeed, to perceive and discriminate speech sounds in the same way as adults. They can discriminate between syllables that differ by a single phonetic feature (e.g., ba vs pa). Studies have demonstrated that during the first months of life infants discriminate all phonetic contrasts between speech sounds in their native language as well as those occurring in other languages to which they have not been exposed.

During the second half of the first year speech perception abilities undergo significant changes and reorganizations. As a result of continued exposure to the sound properties of their native language, infants show a reduction and eventual loss in the capacity to discriminate speech sound contrasts that are present only in foreign languages. At the same time, by the age of 6 months infants become more attuned to the sound structure of their native language, preferring the prosodic patterns of their own language as opposed to those found in languages they have not heard. By the age of 9 months, infants also prefer listening to word lists in which the words follow the constraints on ordering phonetic segments in their native language over those in which the words violate those constraints.

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