Learning to Learn: Infants’ Acquisition of Stress-Based Strategies for Word Segmentation

Date of Original Version




Abstract or Description

A majority of English words are stressed on their first syllable. Infants use stress as a cue to word segmentation, but it is unclear how infants discover the correlation between stress and word boundaries. We exposed English-learning infants to a list of words stressed on their second syllable to discover whether infants can learn a new relation between stress and word boundaries. English-learning infants treat stressed syllables as word onsets, which is incorrect in words where stressed syllables occur second (iambic words). A brief exposure allowed infants to subsequently segment iambic words correctly, whether the exposure consisted of 100% or 80% iambic words. We also trained 7-month-olds—who typically rely on transitional probabilities—to use stress as a cue to word segmentation. The results suggest that infants are sensitive to the distribution of stress across word position and that altering this distribution affects their segmentation strategies.




Published In

Language Learning and Development, 3, 1, 73-100.