To understand speech, listeners need to be able to decode the speech stream into meaningful units. However, coarticulation causes phonemes to differ based on their context. Because coarticulation is an ever-present component of the speech stream, it follows that listeners may exploit this source of information for cues to the identity of the words being spoken. This research investigates the development of listeners' sensitivity to coarticulation cues below the level of the phoneme in spoken word recognition. Using a looking-while-listening paradigm, adults and 2- and 3-year-old children were tested on coarticulation cues that either matched or mismatched the target. Both adults and children predicted upcoming phonemes based on anticipatory coarticulation to make decisions about word identity. The overall results demonstrate that coarticulation cues are a fundamental component of children's spoken word recognition system. However, children did not show the same resolution as adults of the mismatching coarticulation cues and competitor inhibition, indicating that children's processing systems are still developing.
Keywords: Coarticulation; Eye-tracking; Language processing; Lexical competition; Spoken word recognition; Vowel nasalization.
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