Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Early word segmentation in infants acquiring Parisian French: task-dependent and dialect-specific aspects*


Six experiments explored Parisian French-learning infants' ability to segment bisyllabic words from fluent speech. The first goal was to assess whether bisyllabic word segmentation emerges later in infants acquiring European French compared to other languages. The second goal was to determine whether infants learning different dialects of the same language have partly different segmentation abilities, and whether segmenting a non-native dialect has a cost. Infants were tested on standard European or Canadian French stimuli, in the word–passage or passage–word order. Our study first establishes an early onset of segmentation abilities: Parisian infants segment bisyllabic words at age 0;8 in the passage–word order only (revealing a robust order of presentation effect). Second, it shows that there are differences in segmentation abilities across Parisian and Canadian French infants, and that there is a cost for cross-dialect segmentation for Parisian infants. We discuss the implications of these findings for understanding word segmentation processes.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Thierry Nazzi, Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, Institut Pluridisciplinaire des Saints Pères, 45 rue des Sts Pères, 75006 Paris, France. tel: +33·1·42·86·43·15; fax: +33.1.42·86·33·22. e-mail:
Hide All

This study was conducted with the support of an ANR grant # 07-BLAN-0014-01 to TN and a grant from the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada to LP. Special thanks to the infants and their parents for their kindness and cooperation, Léo-Lyuki Nishibayashi for help with the testing, and James White for carefully proofreading the manuscript.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

C. T. Best , M. D. Tyler , T. N. Gooding , C. B. Orlando & C. A. Quann (2009). Development of phonological constancy: toddlers' perception of native- and Jamaican-accented words. Psychological Science 20, 539–42.

M. R. Brent & J. M. Siskind (2001). The role of exposure to isolated words in early vocabulary development. Cognition 81, B33B44.

J. Butler , C. Floccia , J. Goslin & R. Panneton (2011). Infants' discrimination of familiar and unfamiliar accents in speech. Infancy 16, 392417.

S. Curtin , T. H. Mintz & M. H. Christiansen (2005). Stress changes the representational landscape: evidence from word segmentation. Cognition 96, 233–62.

A. Fernald & T. Simon (1984). Expanded intonation contours in mothers' speech to newborns. Developmental Psychology 20, 104–13.

A. Gout , A. Christophe & J. L. Morgan (2004). Phonological phrase boundaries constrain lexical access II. Infant data. Journal of Memory and Language 51, 548–67.

L. Goyet , S. de Schonen & T. Nazzi (2010). Syllables in word segmentation by French-learning infants: an ERP study. Brain Research 1332, 7589.

K. Graf Estes , J. L. Evans , M. W. Alibali & J. R. Saffran (2007). Can infants map meaning to newly segmented words? Statistical segmentation and word learning. Psychological Science 18, 254–60.

B. Höhle & J. Weissenborn (2003). German-learning infants' ability to detect unstressed closed-class elements in continuous speech. Developmental Science 6, 122–27.

D. M. Houston , P. W. Jusczyk , C. Kuijpers , R. Coolen & A. Cutler (2000). Cross-language word segmentation by 9-month-olds. Psychonomics Bulletin & Review 7, 504–09.

E. K. Johnson & P. W. Jusczyk (2001). Word segmentation by 8-month-olds: when speech cues count more than statistics. Journal of Memory and Language 44, 120.

E. K. Johnson & A. Seidl (2009). At 11 months, prosody still outranks statistics. Developmental Science 12, 131141.

E. K. Johnson & M. Tyler (2010). Testing the limits of statistical learning for word segmentation. Developmental Science 13, 339–45.

P. W. Jusczyk & R. N. Aslin (1995). Infants' detection of the sound patterns of words in fluent speech. Cognitive Psychology 29, 123.

P. W. Jusczyk , D. M. Houston , & M. Newsome (1999b). The beginnings of word segmentation in English-learning infants. Cognitive Psychology 39, 159207.

V. Kooijman , P. Hagoort & A. Cutler (2005). Electrophysiological evidence for prelinguistic infants' word recognition in continuous speech. Cognitive Brain Research 24, 109–16.

A. Marquis & R. Shi (2008). Segmentation of verb forms in preverbal infants. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 123, EL105EL110.

S. Mattys & P. W. Jusczyk (2001a). Phonotactic cues for segmentation of fluent speech by infants. Cognition 78, 91121.

S. Mattys , P. W. Jusczyk , P. A. Luce & J. L. Morgan (1999). Phonotactic and prosodic effects on word segmentation in infants. Cognitive Psychology 38, 465–94.

K. Mersad & T. Nazzi (2012). When Mommy comes to the rescue of statistics: infants combine top-down and bottom-up cues to segment speech. Language Learning and Development 8, 303–15.

T. Nazzi , L. C. Dilley , A. M. Jusczyk , S. Shattuck-Hufnagel & P. W. Jusczyk (2005). English-learning infants' segmentation of verbs from fluent speech. Language and Speech 48, 279–98.

T. Nazzi , I. Iakimova , J. Bertoncini , S. Frédonie & C. Alcantara (2006). Early segmentation of fluent speech by infants acquiring French: emerging evidence for crosslinguistic differences. Journal of Memory and Language 54, 283–99.

T. Nazzi , P. W. Jusczyk & E. K. Johnson (2000). Language discrimination by English learning 5-month-olds: effects of rhythm and familiarity. Journal of Memory and Language 43, 119.

R. Newman , N. Bernstein Ratner , A. M. Jusczyk , P. W. Jusczyk & K. A. Dow (2006). Infants' early ability to segment the conversational speech signal predicts later language development: a retrospective analysis. Developmental Psychology 42, 643–55.

M. Papousek , H. Papousek & M. Haekel (1987). Didactic adjustments in fathers' and mothers' speech to their 3-month-old infants. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 16, 491516.

B. Pelucchi , J. F. Hay & J. R. Saffran (2009). Statistical learning in a natural language by 8-month-old infants. Child Development 80, 674685.

M. Picard (1987). An Introduction to the comparative phonetics of English and French in North America. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

L. Polka & M. Sundara (2012). Word segmentation in monolingual infants acquiring Canadian English and Canadian French: native language, cross-dialect, and cross-language comparisons. Infancy 17, 198232.

J. R. Saffran , R. N. Aslin & E. L. Newport (1996). Statistical learning by 8-month-old infants. Science 274, 1926–28.

R. Schmale , A. Cristia , A. Seidl & E. K. Johnson (2010). Developmental changes in infants' ability to cope with dialect variation in word recognition. Infancy 15, 650–62.

A. Seidl & E. K. Johnson (2006). Infant word segmentation revisited: edge alignment facilitates target extraction. Developmental Science 9, 565–73.

L. Singh , J. L. Morgan & K. S. White (2004). Preference and processing: the role of speech affect in early spoken word recognition. Journal of Memory and Language 51, 173–89.

E. D. Thiessen , E. A. Hill & J. R. Saffran (2005). Infant-directed speech facilitates word segmentation. Infancy 7, 5371.

E. D. Thiessen & J. R. Saffran (2003). When cues collide: use of stress and statistical cues to word boundaries by 7- to 9-month-old infants. Developmental Psychology 39, 706–16.

M. van Heugten & E. K. Johnson (2012). Infants exposed to fluent natural speech succeed at cross-gender word recognition. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 55, 554–60.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *