Linguistics and English Language

Language evolution seminar

Speaker: Sharon Goldwater (University of Edinburgh)

Title: Do infants really learn phonetic categories? (Joint work with Naomi Feldman, Thomas Schatz, Emmanuel Dupoux, Xuan-Nga Cao)

Abstract: Early changes in infants' ability to perceive native and non-native speech sound contrasts is typically attributed to their developing knowledge of phonetic categories. I will argue, however, that there is little direct evidence of early category knowledge, and that alternative accounts of early perceptual changes should be considered. I will propose a general account, unsupervised representation learning, that draws on approaches standardly used in machine learning. I will then describe a specific model within this framework that successfully simulates the different developmental trajectories of Japanese-learning and American English-learning infants with respect to the [r]-[l] contrast. Nevertheless, the representations learned by this model lack several necessary conditions of phonetic categories. These results demonstrate that observed changes in infant perception could occur in the absence of phonetic categories, prompting a potential re-examination of the timeline of early language acquisition.


Seminars are organised by the Centre for Language Evolution

Andres Karjus

Centre for Language Evolution

Mar 19 2019 -

Language evolution seminar

2019-03-19: Do infants really learn phonetic categories?

Room G32, Psychology Building, 7 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JZ