Phonological features in infancy

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Features serve two main functions in the phonology of languages: they encode the distinction between pairs of contrastive phonemes (distinctive function); and they delimit sets of sounds that participate in phonological processes and patterns (classificatory function). We summarize evidence from a variety of experimental paradigms bearing on the functional relevance of phonological features. This research shows that while young infants may use abstract phonological features to learn sound patterns, this ability becomes more constrained with development and experience. Furthermore, given the lack of overlap between the ability to learn a pair of words differing in a single feature and the ability to learn sound patterns based on features, we argue for the separation of the distinctive and the classificatory function.


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