Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Listening Through Voices: Infant Statistical Word Segmentation Across Multiple Speakers
Graf Estes, K. & Lew-Williams, C. (2015). Listening Through Voices: Infant Statistical Word Segmentation Across Multiple Speakers. Developmental Psychology, 51(11), 1517-1528.
Statistical language learning refers to learning aspects of language based on the patterns of the language. For example, sounds within a word are more likely to occur together than are sounds that cross word boundaries. These patterns might help infants learn to distinguish words from word boundaries. In this study, Graf Estes and Lew-Williams focused on the statistical learning in infants.
In a real environment, infants are exposed to multiple voices, each with a unique speaking style and rate. Graf Estes and Lew-Williams used multiple voices in a monotone speech stream to mimic this natural environment. Infants from this study listened to a language produced by eight different voices that changed frequently for six minutes. Results suggested that infants were able to learn the artificial language when tested with a common voice or a novel voice, also suggesting that infants can generalize representations.
In the second series of experiments, infants listened to two different voices. The researchers suggested that the use of two dominant voices may better mimic the infant’s environment (e.g. two parents). Infants, however, failed to display signs of language acquisition. Graf Estes and Lew-Williams suggested two possible explanations: Infants were able to learn both the words and part-words, thus showing no discrimination during test phase, or the used of two voices resulted in a focus on discerning the voices, thus inhibiting language acquisition.
Although the mixed results require further investigation, the findings highlight the efficiency of learning in the context of variability (see also, Plante et al. 2014).
Blogger: Hosung (Joel) Kang is a neuroscience student completing his undergraduate thesis project in the Language and Working Memory Lab.