Nivedita Mani, Debra L Mills, and Kim Plunkett (2012)

Vowels in early words: An event‐related potential study

Developmental Science, 15(1):2-11.

Previous behavioural research suggests that infants possess phonologically detailed representations of the vowels and consonants in familiar words. These tasks examine infants’ sensitivity to mispronunciations of a target label in the presence of a target and distracter image. Sensitivity to the mispronunciation may, therefore, be contaminated by the degree of mismatch between the distracter label and the heard mispronounced label. Event-related potential (ERP) studies allow investigation of infants’ sensitivity to the relationship between a heard label (correct or mispronounced) and the referent alone using single picture trials. ERPs also provide information about the timing of lexico-phonological activation in infant word recognition. The current study examined 14-month-olds’ sensitivity to vowel mispronunciations of familiar words using ERP data from single picture trials. Infants were presented with familiar images followed by a correct pronunciation of its label, a vowel mispronunciation or a phonologically unrelated non-word. The results support and extend previous behavioural findings that 14-month-olds are sensitive to mispronunciations of the vowels in familiar words using an ERP task. We suggest that the presence of pictorial context reinforces infants’ sensitivity to mispronunciations of words, and that mispronunciation sensitivity may rely on infants accessing the cross-modal associations between word forms and their meanings.