The ability of infants to recognize phonotactic patterns in their native language is widely acknowledged. However, the specific ability of infants to recognize patterns created by nonadjacent vowels in words has seldom been investigated. In Semitic languages such as Hebrew, groups of multisyllabic words are identical in their nonadjacent vowel sequences and stress position but differ in the consonants interposed between the vowels. The goals of this study were to assess whether infants learning Hebrew show a preference for (1) a nonadjacent vocalic pattern or template, common in Hebrew nouns (CéCeC), over a nonattested nonadjacent vocalic pattern (CóCoC), and (2) a nonadjacent vocalic pattern common in Hebrew words (CaCóC) over an existing but less common pattern (CaCéC). Twenty Hebrew-learning infants aged 8 to 11 months were presented with lists of nonsense words featuring the first two patterns (Experiment 1), and 20 were presented with nonsense words featuring the second two patterns (Experiment 2). The results showed longer listening to CéCeC than to CóCoC lists and to CaCóC than to CaCéC lists, suggesting that infants recognized the common nonadjacent vocalic patterns in both cases. The study thus demonstrates that Hebrew-learning infants are able to disregard the intervening consonants within words and generalize their vocalic pattern to previously unheard nonwords, whether this pattern includes identical or different vowels and regardless of the rhythmic pattern of the word (trochaic or iambic). Analysis of the occurrence of the relevant vowel patterns in input speech in three Hebrew corpora (two addressed to children and one to adults) suggests that exposure to these patterns in words underlies the infants' preferences.
Bibliographical note© International Society on Infant Studies (ISIS)
- infant language perception