Nicole Altvater-Mackensen and Nivedita Mani (2013)

The impact of mispronunciations on toddler word recognition: Evidence for cascaded activation of semantically related words from mispronunciations of familiar words

Infancy, 18(6):1030-1052.

While the specificity of infants’ early lexical representations has been studied extensively, researchers have only recently begun to investigate how words are organized in the developing lexicon and what mental representations are activated during processing of a word. Integrating these two lines of research, the current study asks how specific the phonological match between a perceived word and its stored form has to be in order to lead to (cascaded) lexical activation of related words during infant lexical processing. We presented German 24-month-olds with a cross-modal semantic priming task where the prime word was either correctly or incorrectly pronounced. Results indicate that correct pronunciations and mispronunciations both elicit similar semantic priming effects, suggesting that the infant word recognition system is flexible enough to handle deviations from the correct form. This might be an important prerequisite to children’s ability to cope with imperfect input and to recognize words under more challenging circumstances.

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