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date: 26 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Spoken language is typically produced in a continuous stream, with the realization of phonemes influenced by adjacent sounds (coarticulation) and few silent boundaries between words. Despite these problems of variability and continuity, listeners generally perceive speech as a coherent sequence of discrete words. Understanding the segmentation process has entailed a search for fundamental units of speech perception, notably the syllable, and led to an understanding of the critical importance of word recognition, with segmentation often achieved implicitly when hearing our native languages in clear listening conditions. However, in first and second language acquisition, or when speech quality is compromised, a range of general and language-specific cues to the location of word boundaries are exploited by listeners, including intonation, timing, allophony, vowel harmony, lexical stress, and phonotactic regularities. Indeed, for infants learning their first languages, such cues may be hyperarticulated in adults’ infant-directed speech, thereby facilitating segmentation and hence vocabulary development.

Keywords: word boundaries, word recognition, segmentation cues, language acquisition, infant-directed speech

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