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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00117

Monolingual and bilingual infants’ ability to use non-native tone for word learning deteriorates by the second year after birth

  • 1Western Sydney University, Australia
  • 2Utrecht University, Netherlands

Previous studies reported a non-native word learning advantage for bilingual infants at around 18 months. We investigated developmental changes in infant interpretation of sounds that aid in object mapping. Dutch monolingual and bilingual (exposed to Dutch and a second non-tone-language) infants’ word learning ability was examined on two novel label-object pairings using syllables differing in Mandarin tones as labels (flat vs. falling). Infants aged 14-15 months, regardless of language backgrounds, were sensitive to violations in the label-objects pairings when lexical tones were switched compared to when they were the same as habituated. Conversely at 17-18 months, neither monolingual nor bilingual infants demonstrated learning. Linking with existing literature, infants’ ability to associate non-native tones with meanings may be related to tonal acoustic properties and/or perceptual assimilation to native prosodic categories. These findings provide new insights into the relation between infant tone perception, learning and interpretative narrowing from a developmental perspective.

Keywords: Associative word learning, lexical tone, bilingualism, interpretive narrowing, Perceptual assimilation

Received: 25 Jun 2017; Accepted: 24 Jan 2018.

Edited by:

Judit Gervain, Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), France

Reviewed by:

Laurianne Cabrera, UMR8242 Laboratoire psychologie de la perception (LPP), France
Nayeli Gonzalez-Gomez, Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom  

Copyright: © 2018 Liu and Kager. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Liquan Liu, LIU., Western Sydney University, Penrith, 2751, NSW, Australia, liquan82@gmail.com