Prosody guides the rapid mapping of auditory word forms onto visual objects in 6-mo-old infants
Human infants are predisposed to rapidly acquire their native language. The nature of these predispositions is poorly understood, but is crucial to our understanding of how infants unpack their speech input to recover the fundamental word-like units, assign them referential roles, and acquire the rules that govern their organization. Previous researchers have demonstrated the role of general distributional computations in prelinguistic infants’ parsing of continuous speech. We extend these findings to more naturalistic conditions, and find that 6-mo-old infants can simultaneously segment a nonce auditory word form from prosodically organized continuous speech and associate it to a visual referent. Crucially, however, this mapping occurs only when the word form is aligned with a prosodic phrase boundary. Our findings suggest that infants are predisposed very early in life to hypothesize that words are aligned with prosodic phrase boundaries, thus facilitating the word learning process. Further, and somewhat paradoxically, we observed successful learning in a more complex context than previously studied, suggesting that learning is enhanced when the language input is well matched to the learner's expectations.