Do Infants Learn Words from Statistics? Evidence from English-Learning Infants Hearing Italian

Shoaib, Amber, Wang, Tianlin, Hay, Jessica and Lany, JA ORCID: 0000-0001-8077-6244
(2018) Do Infants Learn Words from Statistics? Evidence from English-Learning Infants Hearing Italian. Cognitive Science, 42 (8). 3083 - 3099.

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Infants are sensitive to statistical regularities (i.e., transitional probabilities, or TPs) relevant to segmenting words in fluent speech. However, there is debate about whether tracking TPs results in representations of possible words. Infants show preferential learning of sequences with high TPs (HTPs) as object labels relative to those with low TPs (LTPs). Such findings could mean that only the HTP sequences have a word‐like status, and they are more readily mapped to a referent for that reason. But these findings could also suggest that HTP sequences are easier to encode, just like any other predictable sequence. Here we aimed to distinguish between these explanations. To do so, we built on findings that infants become resistant to learning labels that are not typical of their native language as they approach 2 years of age and add words to their lexicons. If tracking TPs in speech results in identifying candidate words, at this age TPs may have reduced power to confer lexical status when they yield a unit that is very dissimilar to word forms that are typical of infants’ native language. Indeed, we found that at 20 months, English‐learning infants with relatively small vocabularies learned HTP Italian words (but not LTP words) as object labels, while infants with larger vocabularies resisted learning HTP Italian words. These findings suggest that the HTP sequences may be represented as candidate words, and more broadly, that TP statistics are relevant to word learning.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Language learning, Statistical learning, Word learning, Word segmentation, Referential support, language development
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 18 Jan 2019 11:05
Last Modified: 09 Jan 2021 04:28
DOI: 10.1111/cogs.12673
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