Cognition, August 2012, Vol.124(2), pp.128-142
► We investigated sensitivity to pitch and tone variation in bilingual infants. ► Like monolinguals, younger infants defined words by pitch and tone characteristics. ► By 11 months, infants demonstrated language-specific sensitivities. ► Sensitivity to tone contrasts in word recognition emerges by 11 months. Infants’ abilities to discriminate native and non-native phonemes have been extensively investigated in monolingual learners, demonstrating a transition from language-general to language-specific sensitivities over the first year after birth. However, these studies have mostly been limited to the study of vowels and consonants in monolingual learners. There is relatively little research on other types of phonetic segments, such as lexical tone, even though tone languages are very well represented across languages of the world. The goal of the present study is to investigate how Mandarin Chinese–English bilingual learners contend with non-phonemic pitch variation in English spoken word recognition. This is contrasted with their treatment of phonemic changes in lexical tone in Mandarin spoken word recognition. The experimental design was cross-sectional and three age-groups were sampled (7.5 months, 9 months and 11 months). Results demonstrated limited generalization abilities at 7.5 months, where infants only recognized words in English when matched in pitch and words in Mandarin that were matched in tone. At 9 months, infants recognized words in Mandarin Chinese that matched in tone, but also falsely recognized words that contrasted in tone. At this age, infants also recognized English words whether they were matched or mismatched in pitch. By 11 months, infants correctly recognized pitch-matched and – mismatched words in English but only recognized tonal matches in Mandarin Chinese.
Bilingualism ; Infant Tone Perception ; Infant Word Recognition ; Psychology
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