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Categorization and Interpretation in Phonetic Learning (talk recording available)
Dr. Daniel Swingley
Tuesday, February 16, 2010, 01:00pm - 02:00pm
University of Pennsylvania, Department of Psychology
Once it was discovered that infants learn their language's phonetic categories, psychological science had an orderly account of early language development: first infants learn the components of words' forms, by performing distributional analyses of heard consonants and vowels; then children use these components to build words, identifying and distinguishing words using the component categories.
Drawing upon behavioral experiments with toddlers and computational analyses of infant-directed speech, I will make the case that this is not the right way to understand the acquisition of phonology. Infants' phonetic learning is real. But the structure of the lexicon plays a strong role in interpretation, and infants learn words and sounds at the same time. Reinterpreting the problems facing the learner leads to an account that better reflects the nature of language comprehension and acknowledges development from infancy through middle childhood.