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      Prosody cues word order in 7-month-old bilingual infants.

      Nature Communications

      Time Factors, Speech Acoustics, Speech, Multilingualism, Male, Infant, Humans, Female, Cues

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          Abstract

          A central problem in language acquisition is how children effortlessly acquire the grammar of their native language even though speech provides no direct information about underlying structure. This learning problem is even more challenging for dual language learners, yet bilingual infants master their mother tongues as efficiently as monolinguals do. Here we ask how bilingual infants succeed, investigating the particularly challenging task of learning two languages with conflicting word orders (English: eat an apple versus Japanese: ringo-wo taberu 'apple.acc eat'). We show that 7-month-old bilinguals use the characteristic prosodic cues (pitch and duration) associated with different word orders to solve this problem. Thus, the complexity of bilingual acquisition is countered by bilinguals' ability to exploit relevant cues. Moreover, the finding that perceptually available cues like prosody can bootstrap grammatical structure adds to our understanding of how and why infants acquire grammar so early and effortlessly.

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          Most cited references 10

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          Cognitive gains in 7-month-old bilingual infants.

          Children exposed to bilingual input typically learn 2 languages without obvious difficulties. However, it is unclear how preverbal infants cope with the inconsistent input and how bilingualism affects early development. In 3 eye-tracking studies we show that 7-month-old infants, raised with 2 languages from birth, display improved cognitive control abilities compared with matched monolinguals. Whereas both monolinguals and bilinguals learned to respond to a speech or visual cue to anticipate a reward on one side of a screen, only bilinguals succeeded in redirecting their anticipatory looks when the cue began signaling the reward on the opposite side. Bilingual infants rapidly suppressed their looks to the first location and learned the new response. These findings show that processing representations from 2 languages leads to a domain-general enhancement of the cognitive control system well before the onset of speech.
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            Native-language recognition abilities in 4-month-old infants from monolingual and bilingual environments.

            This study examined the capacity of 4-month-old infants to identify their maternal language when phonologically similar languages are contrasted, using a visual orientation procedure with a reaction time measure. Infants from monolingual and bilingual environments were compared in order to analyze whether differences in linguistic background affect this behavioral response. In experiment 1 the validity of the procedure was assessed with a pair of phonologically dissimilar languages (Catalan or Spanish vs. English). In experiment 2, 20 infants from monolingual environments tested in a similar language contrast (Catalan vs. Spanish) indicated that discrimination is already possible at that age. Results from experiment 3, using low-pass filtered utterances, suggested that infants can rely on information about supra-segmental features to make this distinction. For the infants growing up in bilingual environments no preference for either of the familiar languages was found. Moreover, when their maternal language was contrasted either with English or with Italian, in both cases the bilingual group showed a similar pattern, consisting of significantly longer latencies for the familiar language. Possible interpretations of this unexpected pattern of results are discussed and its implications for bilingual language acquisition are considered.
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              Newborn infants' sensitivity to perceptual cues to lexical and grammatical words.

              In our study newborn infants were presented with lists of lexical and grammatical words prepared from natural maternal speech. The results show that newborns are able to categorically discriminate these sets of words based on a constellation of perceptual cues that distinguish them. This general ability to detect and categorically discriminate sets of words on the basis of multiple acoustic and phonological cues may provide a perceptual base that can help older infants bootstrap into the acquisition of grammatical categories and syntactic structure.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                10.1038/ncomms2430
                23411502

                Chemistry

                Time Factors, Speech Acoustics, Speech, Multilingualism, Male, Infant, Humans, Female, Cues

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