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Contributions of phonetic token variability and word-type frequency to phonological representations*


The experiments here build on the widely reported finding that children are most accurate when producing phonotactic sequences with high ambient-language frequency. What remains controversial is a description of the input that children must be tracking for this effect to arise. We present a series of experiments that compare two ambient-language properties, token and type frequency, as they contribute to phonotactic learning. Token frequency is the raw number of exposures children have to a particular pattern; type frequency refers to a count of abstract entities, such as unique words. Our results suggest that children's production accuracy is most sensitive to a combination of type and token frequency: children were able to generalize a target phonotactic sequence to a new word when familiarized with multiple word-types across tokens from multiple talkers, but not when presented with either word-types with no talker variability or multiple talker-tokens of a single word.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Peter Richtsmeier, Purdue University, Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, 500 Oval Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907. e-mail: e-mail:
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The authors wish to thank Philip Dale and two anonymous reviewers for comments and criticism. We also thank Brianna McMillan for help collecting and analyzing data and John Geldhof for help with statistics. These data were collected by the first author (currently affiliated with Purdue University) as part of his dissertation, which was completed at the University of Arizona. This research was supported by NIH HD042170 to the second author.

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Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
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