Speaker: Chandan Narayan (UTSC)
Date: Thursday February 7th
Title: “The Phonetic World of Infants: Perceptual Biases and the Acoustics
In this talk I explore the interrelatedness of types of speech sounds
infants are able to perceive, the peculiarities of infant-directed speech
(IDS), and the shapes of the world’s sound systems. The connections between
first language acquisition, phonological typology, and sound change have
been questioned in the past mainly from the standpoint of the emergence of
children’s *productive* phonology, the speech sounds they are able to make.
My research program takes a different perspective, approaching possible
links between acquisition, typology, and sound change as a function of
infants’ innate perceptual biases and the acoustic nature of the primary
input to infants, infant directed speech. I argue that the speech sounds
that infants fail to perceive are precisely those that are rare in the
world’s sound systems. The second part of my talk looks to the acoustic
nature IDS. IDS is thought to provide infants with robust phonetic cues to
the phonology of the language. I present work from English and Korean IDS
that suggests that IDS is often less than ideal phonetic input to infants.
Taken together, infant speech perception and the acoustics of the
caregiver-infant interaction conspire in potentially affecting the observed
shapes of sound systems and the directions of sound change.