Infant sensitivity to distributional information can affect phonetic discrimination

Jessica Maye, Janet F. Werker, Lou Ann Gerken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

842 Scopus citations


For nearly two decades it has been known that infants' perception of speech sounds is affected by native language input during the first year of life. However, definitive evidence of a mechanism to explain these developmental changes in speech perception has remained elusive. The present study provides the first evidence for such a mechanism, showing that the statistical distribution of phonetic variation in the speech signal influences whether 6- and 8-month-old infants discriminate a pair of speech sounds. We familiarized infants with speech sounds from a phonetic continuum, exhibiting either a bimodal or unimodal frequency distribution. During the test phase, only infants in the bimodal condition discriminated tokens from the endpoints of the continuum. These results demonstrate that infants are sensitive to the statistical distribution of speech sounds in the input language, and that this sensitivity influences speech perception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)B101-B111
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002


  • Distributional information
  • Infant sensitivity
  • Phonetic discrimination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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