Cues to dialectal discrimination in early infancy

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Cross-dialect differences might be restricted to prosodic properties, but language dialects can also differ at the segmental level affecting vowel and/or consonantal sound repertoires. Examining infants’ ability for crossdialectal discrimination can be informative about the early availability of cues other than rhythm or intonation. Preliminary data from five-month-old Catalanlearning infants exposed to the Eastern variant of this language spoken in Barcelona revealed their ability to differentiate it from the Western dialect, which differs in the number of vowels occurring in unstressed positions. In order to disentangle the effects of rhythm from those of segmental statistics, vowel distribution and rhythmic patterns of the utterances used in the discrimination experiment were analyzed. Results show that vowel metrics, rather than global rhythm metrics, are most successful at classifying the utterances into these two dialects. Information about the distribution of vowels in the native dialect might thus be available early in development and facilitate dialectal discrimination.


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