UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Finding phrases : The interplay of word frequency, phrasal prosody and co-verbal visual information in chunking speech by monolingual and bilingual adults de la Cruz Pavía, Irene; Werker, Janet Feldman, 1951-; Vatikiotis-Bateson, Eric; Gervain, Judit


The input contains perceptually available cues, which might allow young infants to discover abstract properties of the target language. Thus, word frequency and prosodic prominence correlate systematically with basic word order in natural languages. Prelexical infants are sensitive to these frequency-based and prosodic cues, and use them to parse new input into phrases that follow the order characteristic of their native languages. Importantly, young infants readily integrate auditory and visual facial information while processing language. Here, we ask whether co-verbal visual information provided by talking faces also helps prelexical infants learn the word order of their native language in addition to word frequency and prosodic prominence. We created two structurally ambiguous artificial languages containing head nods produced by an animated avatar, aligned or misaligned with the frequency-based and prosodic information. During 4 minutes, two groups of 4- and 8-month-old infants were familiarized with the artificial language containing aligned auditory and visual cues, while two further groups were exposed to the misaligned language. Using a modified Headturn Preference Procedure, we tested infants’ preference for test items exhibiting the word order of the native language, French, vs. the opposite word order. At 4 months, infants had no preference, suggesting that 4-month-olds were not able to integrate the three available cues, or had not yet built a representation of word order. By contrast, 8-month-olds showed no preference when auditory and visual cues were aligned and a preference for the native word order 44 when visual cues were misaligned. These results imply that infants at this age start to integrate the co-verbal visual and auditory cues.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International