Purpose: The prelinguistic infant's babbling repertoire of syllables--the phonological categories that form the basis for early word learning--is noticed by caregivers who interact with infants around them. Prior research on babbling has not explored the caregiver's role in recognition of early vocal categories as foundations for word learning. In the present work, the authors begin to address this gap.
Method: The authors explored vocalizations produced by 8 infants at 3 ages (8, 10, and 12 months) in studies illustrating identification of phonological categories through caregiver report, laboratory procedures simulating the caregiver's natural mode of listening, and the more traditional laboratory approach (phonetic transcription).
Results: Caregivers reported small repertoires of syllables for their infants. Repertoires of similar size and phonetic content were discerned in the laboratory by judges who simulated the caregiver's natural mode of listening. However, phonetic transcription with repeated listening to infant recordings yielded repertoire sizes that vastly exceeded those reported by caregivers and naturalistic listeners.
Conclusions: The results suggest that caregiver report and naturalistic listening by laboratory staff can provide a new way to explore key characteristics of early infant vocal categories, a way that may provide insight into later speech and language development.