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One of the basic questions in speech perception is how infants learn speech sound categories. Different languages use different sets of speech sounds. For example, English distinguishes two voicing categories of sounds, whereas Hindi has three categories. Infants must learn which sounds their native language uses, and which ones it does not. It remains unclear how they are able to do this. Some researchers have suggested that certain sound categories are innate, that is, they are genetically-specified. Others have suggested that infants may be able to learn the sound categories of their native language through passive listening, using a process called statistical learning.

Studies of infant speech perception have shown that, in general, infants are able to distinguish more categories of speech sounds than adults. Newborns are able to distinguish between many of the sounds of human languages, but by about 12 months of age, they are only able to distinguish those sounds used in their native language.

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  • Goodman, J C & Nusbaum, H C (1994)(eds) "The development of speech perception" MIT, Cambridge Mass.
  • Werner, L A & Rubel, E W (1992)(eds) "Developmental Psychoacoustics" American Psychological Association, Washington DC.


  • Colombo, J. (1985). Recent studies in early auditory development. In G. Whitehurst (Ed.), Annals of Child Development (Vol. 3, pp. 53-98). New York, NY: JAI Press. (Note: Read only pages 73-91).
  • Cooper, R. P., & Aslin, R. N. (1990). Preference for infant-directed speech in the first month after birth. Child Development, 61, 1584-1595.
  • Walley, A.C., Pisoni, D. B., & Aslin, R. N. (1981). The role of early experience in the development of speech perception. In R. Aslin, J. R. Alberts, & M. R. Petersen (Eds.), Development of perception: Psychobiological perspectives (Vol. 1, pp. 219-255). New York, NY: Academic Press.
  • Werker, J. F. (1989). Becoming a native listener. Scientific American, 231, 54-59.
  • Werker, J. F., & Tees, R. C. (1983). Developmental changes across childhood in the perception of non-native speech sounds. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 37, 278-286.
  • Werker, J. F., & Tees, R. C. (1984). Cross-language speech perception: Evidence for perceptual reorganization during the first year of life. Infant Behavior and Development, 7, 49-63.

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