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date: 23 April 2019

Abstract and Keywords

We discuss the development of speech perception and its contribution to the acquisition of the native language(s) during the first year of life, reviewing recent empirical evidence as well as current theoretical debates. We situate the discussion in an epigenetic framework in an attempt to transcend the traditional nature/nurture controversy. As we illustrate, some perceptual and learning mechanisms are best described as experience-expectant processes, embedded in our biology and awaiting minimal environmental input, while others are experience-dependent, emerging as a function of sufficient exposure and learning. We argue for a cascading model of development, whereby the initial biases guide learning and constrain the influence of the environmental input. To illustrate this, we first review the perceptual abilities of newborn infants, then discuss how these broad-based abilities are attuned to the native language at different levels (phonology, syntax, lexicon etc.).

Keywords: phonological/prosodic bootstrapping, experience-expectant and experience-dependent mechanisms, neonates, phoneme perception, word learning, linguistic rhythm, perceptual attunement, rule learning, word order, epigenetics

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