Are Words Easier to Learn From Infant‐ Than Adult‐Directed Speech? A Quantitative Corpus‐Based Investigation

Cognitive Science 42 (5):1586-1617 (2018)
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Abstract

We investigate whether infant‐directed speech (IDS) could facilitate word form learning when compared to adult‐directed speech (ADS). To study this, we examine the distribution of word forms at two levels, acoustic and phonological, using a large database of spontaneous speech in Japanese. At the acoustic level we show that, as has been documented before for phonemes, the realizations of words are more variable and less discriminable inIDSthan inADS. At the phonological level, we find an effect in the opposite direction: TheIDSlexicon contains more distinctive words (such as onomatopoeias) than theADScounterpart. Combining the acoustic and phonological metrics together in a global discriminability score reveals that the bigger separation of lexical categories in the phonological space does not compensate for the opposite effect observed at the acoustic level. As a result,IDSword forms are still globally less discriminable thanADSword forms, even though the effect is numerically small. We discuss the implication of these findings for the view that the functional role ofIDSis to improve language learnability.

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