Talker variability shapes early word representations in English-learning 8-month-olds

Journal Article

Infants must form appropriately specific representations of how words sound, and what they mean. Previous research suggests that while 8-month-olds are learning words, they struggle with recognizing different-sounding instances of words (e.g. from new talkers), and with rejecting incorrect pronunciations. We asked how adding talker variability during learning may change infants' ability to learn and recognize words. Monolingual English-learning 7-to-9-month-olds heard a single novel word paired with an object in either a 'no variability','within talker variability' or 'between talker variability' habituation. We then tested whether infants formed appropriately specific representations by changing the talker (Experiment 1a) or mispronouncing the word (Experiment 2), and by changing the trained word or object altogether (both experiments). Talker variability influenced learning. Infants trained with no talker variability learned the word-object link, but failed to recognize the word trained by a new talker, and were insensitive to the mispronunciation. Infants trained with talker variability dishabituated only to the new object, exhibiting difficulty forming the word-object link. Neither pattern is adult-like. Results are reported for both in-lab and Zoom participants. Implications for the role of talker variability in early word learning are discussed.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Bulgarelli, F; Bergelson, E

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Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.31234/osf.io/rxyjc