Can infants map meaning to newly segmented words? Statistical segmentation and word learning

Psychol Sci. 2007 Mar;18(3):254-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01885.x.


The present experiments investigated how the process of statistically segmenting words from fluent speech is linked to the process of mapping meanings to words. Seventeen-month-old infants first participated in a statistical word segmentation task, which was immediately followed by an object-label-learning task. Infants presented with labels that were words in the fluent speech used in the segmentation task were able to learn the object labels. However, infants presented with labels consisting of novel syllable sequences (nonwords; Experiment 1) or familiar sequences with low internal probabilities (part-words; Experiment 2) did not learn the labels. Thus, prior segmentation opportunities, but not mere frequency of exposure, facilitated infants' learning of object labels. This work provides the first demonstration that exposure to word forms in a statistical word segmentation task facilitates subsequent word learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Child Language
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Language
  • Language Development
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology
  • Speech Discrimination Tests / methods
  • Speech Discrimination Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Speech*
  • Time Factors
  • Verbal Learning / physiology*
  • Vocabulary*