The beginnings of word segmentation in english-learning infants

Cogn Psychol. Nov-Dec 1999;39(3-4):159-207. doi: 10.1006/cogp.1999.0716.


A series of 15 experiments was conducted to explore English-learning infants' capacities to segment bisyllabic words from fluent speech. The studies in Part I focused on 7.5 month olds' abilities to segment words with strong/weak stress patterns from fluent speech. The infants demonstrated an ability to detect strong/weak target words in sentential contexts. Moreover, the findings indicated that the infants were responding to the whole words and not to just their strong syllables. In Part II, a parallel series of studies was conducted examining 7.5 month olds' abilities to segment words with weak/strong stress patterns. In contrast with the results for strong/weak words, 7.5 month olds appeared to missegment weak/strong words. They demonstrated a tendency to treat strong syllables as markers of word onsets. In addition, when weak/strong words co-occurred with a particular following weak syllable (e.g., "guitar is"), 7.5 month olds appeared to misperceive these as strong/weak words (e.g., "taris"). The studies in Part III examined the abilities of 10.5 month olds to segment weak/strong words from fluent speech. These older infants were able to segment weak/strong words correctly from the various contexts in which they appeared. Overall, the findings suggest that English learners may rely heavily on stress cues when they begin to segment words from fluent speech. However, within a few months time, infants learn to integrate multiple sources of information about the likely boundaries of words in fluent speech.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child Language*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Random Allocation
  • Speech*
  • Verbal Learning*
  • Vocabulary*