Do English-Learning Infants use Syllable Weight to Determine Stress?

Alice E. Turk, Peter W. Jusczyk, Louann Gerken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


A linguistic factor governing the assignment of English lexical stress is syllable weight. Heavy syllables which have either a long (tense) vowel or are closed with a consonant are heavy and automatically bear stress. Are infants sensitive to this aspect of the English stress system? Previous research by Jusczyk, Cutler, and Redanz (1993) showed that nine-month-olds listened longer to words exhibiting Strong-Weak than Weak-Strong stress pattern. However, they did not investigate the role of syllable weight in this preference. A series of three experiments explored infants' preference for Strong-Weak versus Weak-Strong lists, but systematically manipulated the syllable weight of Strong syllables. The results suggest that syllable weight is not a necessary component of the Strong-Weak preference observed in previous studies. Rather it appears that infants prefer both words that begin with a Strong syllable and Strong syllables that are heavy. Thus, the results suggest that sensitivity to surface linguistic patterns and the principles that underlie them may be independent in early language acquisition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-158
Number of pages16
JournalLanguage and speech
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1995


  • infants
  • stress
  • syllable weight
  • trochaic pattern

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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