Lexically conditioned phonetic variation in motherese: age-of-acquisition and other word-specific factors in infant- and adult-directed speech

Georgia Zellou, Rebecca Scarborough
2015 Laboratory Phonology  
AbstractWords produced to infants exhibit phonetic modifications relative to speech to adult interlocutors, such as longer, more canonical segments and prosodic enhancement. Meanwhile, within speech directed towards adults, phonetic variation is conditioned by word properties: lower word frequency and higher phonological neighborhood density (ND) correlate with increased hyperarticulation and degree of coarticulation. Both of these types of findings have interpretations that recruit
more » ... recruit listener-directed motivations, suggesting that talkers modify their speech in an effort to enhance the perceptibility of the speech signal. In that vein, the present study examines lexically-conditioned variation in infant-directed speech. Specifically, we predict that the adult-reported age at which a word was learned – lexical age-of-acquisition (AoA) – conditions phonetic variation in infant-directed speech. This prediction is indeed borne out in spontaneous infant-directed speech: later-acquired words are produced with more hyperarticulated vowels and a greater degree of nasal coarticulation. Meanwhile, ND predicts phonetic variation in data from spontaneous adult-directed speech, while AoA does not independently influence production. The patterns of findings in the current study support the stance that evaluation of the need for clarity is tuned to the listener. Lexical difficulty is evaluated by AoA in infant-directed speech, while ND is most relevant in adult-directed speech.
doi:10.1515/lp-2015-0010 fatcat:574irwntnbaqvbx6aekeowsfnq