Nivedita Mani and Kim Plunkett (2008)

Fourteen-month-olds pay attention to vowels in novel words

Developmental Science, 11(1):53-59.

Recent research has shown that infants are sensitive to mispronunciations of words when tested using a preferential looking task. The results of these studies indicate that infants are able to access the phonological detail of words when engaged in lexical recognition. However, most of this work has focused on mispronunciations of consonants in familiar and novel words. Very little is known about the role that vowels play in constraining lexical access during the early stages of lexical development. We describe a word learning study with 14- and 18-month-old infants that tests their sensitivity to mispronunciations of word-medial vowels using a preferential looking task. We found that both age groups demonstrated recognition of correctly pronounced tokens of the newly learnt words but not mispronounced tokens. These results indicate that vowels constrain lexical access of novel words by as early as 14 months of age, and add to the growing body of literature indicating that infants exploit detailed phonological information when processing both familiar and newly learnt words.