Acquisition of non-adjacent phonological dependencies : From speech perception to lexical acquisition

Abstract : Languages instantiate many different kinds of dependencies, some holding between adjacent elements and others holding between non-adjacent elements. During the past decades, many studies have shown how infant initial language-general abilities change into abilities that are attuned to the language they are acquiring. These studies have shown that during the second half of their first year of life, infants became sensitive to the prosodic, phonetic and phonotactic properties of their mother tongue holding between adjacent elements. However, at the present time, no study has established sensitivity to nonadjacent phonological dependencies, which are a key feature in human languages. Therefore, the present dissertation investigates whether infants are able to detect, learn and use non-adjacent phonotactic dependencies. The Labial-Coronal bias, corresponding to the prevalence of structures starting with a labial consonant followed by a coronal consonant (LC, i.e. bat), over the opposite pattern (CL, i.e. tab) was used to explore infants sensitivity to non-adjacent phonological dependencies. Our results establish that by 10 months of age French-learning infants are sensitive to non-adjacent phonological dependencies (experimental part 1.1). In addition, we explored the level of generalization of these acquisitions. Frequency analyses on the French lexicon showed that the LC bias is clearly present for plosive and nasal sequences but not for fricatives. The results of a series of experiments suggest that infants preference patterns are not guided by overall cumulative frequencies in the lexicon, or frequencies of individual pairs, but by consonant classes defined by manner of articulation (experimental part 1.2). Furthermore, we explored whether the LC bias was trigger by maturational constrains or by the exposure to the input. To do so, we tested the emergence of the LC bias firstly in a population having maturational differences, that is infants born prematurely (± 3 months before term) and compared their performance to a group of full-term infants matched in maturational age, and a group of full-term infants matched in chronological age. Our results indicate that the preterm 10-month-old pattern resembles much more that of the full-term 10-month-olds (same listening age) than that of the full-term 7-month-olds (same maturational age; experimental part 1.3). Secondly we tested a population learning a language with no LC bias in its lexicon, that is Japanese-learning infants. The results of these set of experiments failed to show any preference for either LC or CL structures in Japanese-learning infants (experimental part 1.4). Taken together these results suggest that the LC bias is triggered by the exposure to the linguistic input and not only to maturational constrains. Finally, we explored whether, and if so when, phonological acquisitions during the first year of life constrain early lexical development at the level of word segmentation and word learning. Our results show that words with frequent phonotactic structures are segmented (experimental part 2.1) and learned (experimental part 2.2) at an earlier age than words with a less frequent phonotactic structure. These results suggest that prior phonotactic knowledge can constrain later lexical acquisition even when it involves a non-adjacent dependency.
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Nayeli González Gómez. Acquisition of non-adjacent phonological dependencies : From speech perception to lexical acquisition. Psychology. Université René Descartes - Paris V, 2012. English. ⟨NNT : 2012PA05H102⟩. ⟨tel-00733527⟩

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