Early lexical representations: evidence from perception and production.

TitleEarly lexical representations: evidence from perception and production.
Publication TypePresentation
Year of Publication2004
Conference NameWorkshop on First and Second Language Acquisition
AuthorsFikkert, Paula
PublisherNederlandse Vereniging voor Fonetische Wetenschappen
Conference LocationNijmegen, The Netherlands

Central in our investigation are the shape of early lexical representations. What do early words look like? Are they stored with detailed phonetic information, or are they more abstract and perhaps holistic at first? Although most researchers favor the idea that words are stored with phonetic detail (Werker & Fennell 2004, Swingley 2004), the evidence so far is inconclusive.

Our research on early speech production has led us to believe that representations are not phonetically detailed at first. Rather, they start out being holistic, and become segmentalized in the course of development. Once words are segmentalized, children may generalize over the phonological characteristics of their lexical forms, which is the beginning of an abstract phonological system consisting of wellformedness or markedness constraints. Moreover, there are certain significant asymmetries with respect to place of articulation: coronal is behaving differently from other places of articulation, and hence assumed to be underspecified.

These claims have repercussions for early word perception. If words are stored as highly abstract units, then the prediction is that for word recognition detailed phonetic information is not used either. If certain features are underspecified, asymmetry in behavior is expected to show up in perception as well. To test these claims, we replicated and expanded previous research by Werker and colleagues (1997, 2001, 2004, to appear). In addition, we collected and analyzed production data and CDI scores for both production and perception. The results of our (still ongoing) investigations are highly interesting.

In a first experiment using the switch paradigm, we tested whether children prefer to listen to the switch condition when tested with newly learned words (bin or din). Like the English infants, Dutch 14 month old infants do not listen significantly longer to the new words than to the ‘old’ words, indicating that the difference between bin and din is not picked up. In a second experiment we used the switch procedure to test the difference between bon and don. In this case, infants listened significantly longer to the new forms than to the ‘old’ ones, suggesting that the bon-don contrast is perceived. It is, however, not as simple as that. In both experiments, children listened significantly longer to the new words if they are able to produce an initial labial-coronal contrast, which suggests that the child’s productive lexicon indeed plays a role.