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Infants’ use of prosodic and distributional cues in assigning grammatical class McDonald, Sheila

Abstract

Infants' ability to learn new words, particularly nouns, increases dramatically in the months following their first birthday. The current experiment asks whether English-learning infants use prosodic cues, distributional cues, or both when deciding which word in a sentence labels an object. Both prosodic and distributional cues to nouns are available in speech to infants. Previous studies show infants' sensitivity to these types of cues, but it is unclear whether infants make use of these cues when assigning grammatical class. In this study, 16-month-old infants were tested to see which word in a sentence they would treat as an object label. The words infants were tested with provided either prosodic cues (sentence-final position and stress), distributional cues (a word preceded by the), both types of cue, or neither cue. The results reveal that 16-month-old infants use both prosodic and distributional cues to learn object labels.

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