Perceptual discrimination across contexts and contrasts in preschool-aged children

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This paper investigates a proposed phonetically-based account of developmental phonological patterns that lack counterparts in adult typology. Adult listeners perceive some phonemic contrasts more accurately than others, and these differences in perceptual recoverability are posited to represent one influence on phonological typology. One hypothesis suggests that children and adults could differ in their patterns of relative perceptual sensitivity, and these differences could form the basis for some child-specific phonological patterns in production. However, there has been a lack of empirical evidence to support this claim. This study used a nonword discrimination task to investigate differences in perceptual recoverability across contrasts and contexts in typically-developing preschool children. Participants heard nonwords that were identical or differed by a single segment in initial or final position. Results revealed general agreement between child and adult listeners in the relative discriminability of different featural contrasts. For certain contrasts, discrimination accuracy was significantly greater in initial than final position, mirroring an asymmetry seen in adults. Overall, these results suggest that perceptual discrimination in preschool-aged children is broadly congruent with patterns of relative sensitivity observed in adult listeners. These findings suggest that factors other than perceptual recoverability should be explored to account for child-specific phonological patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-53
Number of pages16
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015


  • Perceptual development
  • Perceptual recoverability
  • Speech acquisition
  • Speech perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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