Representations for phonotactic learning in infancy

Kyle Chambers, Kristine Onishi, Cynthia Fisher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Infants rapidly learn novel phonotactic constraints from brief listening experience. Four experiments explored the nature of the representations underlying this learning. 16.5- and 10.5-month-old infants heard training syllables in which particular consonants were restricted to particular syllable positions (first-order constraints) or to syllable positions depending on the identity of the adjacent vowel (second-order constraints). Later, in a headturn listening-preference task, infants were presented with new syllables that either followed the experimental constraints or violated them. Infants at both ages learned first- and second-order constraints on consonant position (Experiments 1 and 2) but found second-order constraints more difficult to learn (Experiment 2). Infants also spontaneously generalized first-order constraints to syllables containing a new, transfer vowel; they did so whether the transfer vowel was similar to the familiarization vowels (Experiment 3), or dissimilar from them (Experiment 4). These findings suggest that infants recruit representations of individuated segments during phonological learning. Furthermore, like adults, they represent phonological sequences in a flexible manner that allows them to detect patterns at multiple levels of phonological analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)287-308
Number of pages22
JournalLanguage Learning and Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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