Effects of Target-Word Frequency Rate on Sound-Meaning-Connection in Five to Fifteen Month-Old Swedish Infants  

Eeva Koponen

Term paper in Phonetics and Master Thesis in Computational Linguistics, Fall 1999
Department of Linguistics, Stockholm University


The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of manipulating target-word frequency rate and target-word phrase position on sound-meaning-connection in five to fifteen month-old Swedish infants. Three different test conditions, each one of them a film showing objects and corresponding phrases made of randomly generated artificial words, were designed. The structure of the first, high variability test condition included context-dependent information and the structures of the second and the third, low variability test conditions were characterised by frequent nonsense target-word rate, target-words occurring in phrase final position. The aim of the artificial input language was to ensure the novelty of test material, and to simulate the type of learning situation - when the semantic content of words is arbitrary - facing young infants in the beginning of language learning. Analysis of informants looking behaviour, prior to, and after exposure to the objects and the corresponding audio input, were performed. Results showed that the structure of high variability test condition and the structure of low variability test conditions were associated with significant between-group differences. This finding indicates that the nonsense phrases in low variability test conditions managed to 'explain' the objects just like semantically meaningful phrases do. When compared with past research, these findings seem to suggest that experience-dependent mechanisms may support, besides word segmentation, even more complicated aspects of language learning, such as acquisition of syntax.  

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