Revisiting Roger Brown’s "Original Word Game": An Experimental Approach to the Pseudo-Semantic Basis of Language-Specific Speech Perception in Late Infancy

Reese M. Heitner

Recent experimental research in developmental phonology confirms that within their first year, infants demonstrate language-specific patterns of speech perception discrimination. Data, however, outpaces theory in this line of research. For while it is clear that this transition is related to the particular linguistic environment of the infant, it remains obscure whether mere acoustic exposure to -- as opposed to interpretive experience with the target language is sufficient to support the details of this development. The logical dynamic language specific allophonic variation imposes on phonological development is integrated into an account of the transition from language-general to language-specific speech perception observed within the first year of infancy. An experiment, reminiscent of Brown’s "Original Word Game", but specifically designed to test the "cognitive" hypothesis that 8- to 10-month old subjects can exploit nascent speech-referent pairs to bootstrap phonological development is proposed.

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