The segmentationproblem: Neuronal entrainment as underlying mechanism for rhythm-based word segmentation in 9-month-old infants

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Infants need to start recognizing words from continuous speech in order to learn their native language. As continuous speech does not have an equivalent to spaces in written text that clearly mark word boundaries, infants can exploit other cues, such as prosody cues, to segment the speech stream. So far, little is known about why infants can rely on prosodic cues in a very early language acquisition phase. Recent work proposed that neuronal oscillations that entrain to slow temporal prosody-specific (1-2 Hz) modulations in the speech stream can facilitate language processing. In this study, we investigate whether infants’ segmentation ability is modulated by the prosodic structure of speech. We presented 9-month-old infants with rhythmic and non-rhythmic speech and investigated whether their EEG word recognition effect was modulated by the different prosodic presentations. Although we did not find significant evidence, our results suggest that infants’ word segmentation ability is enhanced when speech is presented rhythmically. We speculate that neuronal entrainment in the delta frequency band (1-2 Hz) could possibly be the underlying mechanism of rhythm-based word segmentation in infants.
Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen