Abstract

Previous research has shown that infants match vowel sounds to facial displays of vowel articulation [Kuhl, P. K., & Meltzoff, A. N. (1982). The bimodal perception of speech in infancy. Science, 218, 1138-1141; Patterson, M. L., & Werker, J. F. (1999). Matching phonetic information in lips and voice is robust in 4.5-month-old infants. Infant Behaviour & Development, 22, 237-2471], and integrate seen and heard speech sounds [Rosenblum, L. D., Schmuckler, M. A., & Johnson,J. A. (1997). The McGurk effect in infants. Perception & Psychophysics, 59, 347-357; Burnham, D., & Dodd, B. (2004). Auditory-visual speech integration by prelinguistic infants: Perception of an emergent consonant in the McGurk effect. Developmental Psychobiology, 45, 204-220]. However, the role of visual speech in language development remains unknown. Our aim was to determine whether seen articulations enhance phoneme discrimination, thereby playing a role in phonetic category learning. We exposed 6-month-old infants to speech sounds from a restricted range of a continuum between /ba/ and /da/, following a unimodal frequency distribution. Synchronously with these speech sounds, one group of infants (the two-category group) saw a visual articulation of a canonical /ba/ or /da/, with the two alternative visual articulations, /ba/ arid /da/, being presented according to whether the auditory token was on the /ba/ or /da/ side of the midpoint of the continuum. Infants in a second (one-category) group were presented with the same unimodal distribution of speech sounds, but every token for any particular infant was always paired with the same syllable, either a visual /ba/ or a visual /da/. A stimulusalternation preference procedure following the exposure revealed that infants in the former, and not in the latter, group discriminated the /ba/-/da/ contrast. These results not only show that visual information about speech articulation enhances phoneme discrimination, but also that it may contribute to the learning of phoneme boundaries in infancy. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.