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Presenations at WILD 2019, 13-15 June 2019

Presenations at WILD 2019, 13-15 June 2019



Presentations at 4th Workshop on Infant Language Development (WILD 2019) June 13-15, Potsdam, Germany.


Konstantina Zacharaki & Nuria Sebastian-Galles, Language Discrimination abilities of 4-5 mo monolingual and bilingual infants


Marc Colomer & Nuria Sebastian-Galles, Understanding the challenges of communication: A comparison between bilingual and monolingual infants

Camille Frey & Nuria Sebastian-Galles,  Top-down influences on phoneme acquisition: Data from Spanish-Catalan bilinguals

Chiara Santolin, Jenny R. Saffran & Nuria Sebastian-Galles, Non-linguistic artificial grammar learning in 13-month-old infants: A cross-lab replication study

Gonzalo García-Castro, Mireia Marimon, Chiara Santolin & Núria Sebastian-Galles,  Encoding new word forms when contrastive phonemes are interchanged: A preliminary study on 8-months-old infants



Konstantina Zacharaki & Nuria Sebastian-Galles, Language Discrimination abilities of 4-5 mo monolingual and bilingual infants
Previous research indicates that neonates can discriminate languages that belong to different rhythmic classes. Within rhythmic class discrimination starts to take place around the fourth-fifth month of life (Nazzi, Jusczyk, & Johnson, 2000). What type of information infants use to perform such discrimination is yet to be fully determined. Here we investigate the hypothesis that although infants have not yet established vowel categories at such a young age, they may already have some rough knowledge about distributional properties of their vowel system and they may use such distributions to discriminate languages.
We investigated the discrimination capacities of 4.5-month-old infants learning Catalan and or Spanish when listening to sentences in two dialects of Catalan (Southern and Central) – in Experiment 1- and when listening to sentences in Southern Catalan and Spanish – in Experiment 2. Spanish and (Central-Standard) Catalan have quite different vowel distributions due to the existence of vowel reduction in Central Catalan (resulting in very few mid vowels), but not in Spanish (Figure 1). Interestingly, Southern Catalan does not bear vowel reduction, yielding a distribution of vowels very similar to the Spanish one. We used the same procedure as in Bosch & Sebastian-Galles (2001). In the first study, 43 (n= 22 monolinguals, n= 21 bilinguals) 4.5-month-old infants having Central Catalan as their dominant language were tested. In the second study, 41 (n=21 monolinguals, n=20 bilinguals) 4.5-month-old infants having Spanish as their dominant language were tested. The results of the two experiments are shown in figure 2 and 3. Infants were able to discriminate both the two dialects of Catalan (F (1,41) = 15,204; p<.001) and Southern Catalan from Spanish (F (1,39) = 7,468, p=.009). The results indicate that infants may be using other phonological cues and not only vowel distribution and rhythm.
We are currently testing whether infants need segmental cues to discriminate the aforementioned languages/ dialects and if they can do so only by relying on suprasegmental cues. We are investigating this by using the same stimuli as in the previous experiments, but low-pass filtered (400 Hz) so that information about vowels is removed. Preliminary results show that when only prosodic information is available, both dialects of Catalan cannot be discriminated, but Southern Catalan and Spanish can. The results indicate that infants are sensitive to both vocalic distribution and broad prosodic information and add to the scarce literature describing language learning in the first six months of age.


Marc Colomer & Nuria Sebastian-Galles (Pompeu Fabra University, Spain)
Understanding the challenges of communication: A comparison between bilingual and monolingual infants
During the first year of life infants understand that people can communicate using speech (Martin et al., 2012). Infants expect speech either in their native language or foreign language, but not non-speech sounds, to transfer information between communicative partners (Vouloumanos, 2018). Here we asked if infants understand that speakers are able to exchange information when sharing common communicative conventions, but not otherwise; that is, a listener will be able to decode a message from a speaker only if she comprehends the language used to convey the message. The linguistic environment may play a critical role in determining whether individuals comprehend one or more languages (Pitts et al., 2014). In fact, while monolingual infants experience people communicating in one language, bilingual infants constantly experience that people can communicate in multiple languages.
In two studies, we tested the role of the linguistic environment at 15 months of age in evaluating the success of communication between individuals. Study 1 investigated if monolinguals expected foreign speech (Hungarian) to transfer information from Communicator to Recipient when both actresses introduced themselves in Hungarian (Same Language Condition, N=20), or when Communicator introduced herself in Hungarian and Recipient in infants’ native language (Catalan or Spanish; Different Language Condition; N=24). In Study 2 we tested bilinguals in the same two conditions (Same Language Condition: N=16; Different Language Condition: N=20). Both groups of infants initially watched two video-clips in which each actress introduced herself. Then, the Communicator appeared alone and selectively grasped one of two objects (target) displayed in the video. Next, the Recipient appeared alone showing no preference by grasping both objects. At test, the two agents appeared together and the Communicator could no longer reach the objects. Communicator then turned towards the Recipient and repeated a sentence in Hungarian twice. In one of the test outcomes, the Recipient brought the target object over the Communicator’s face (Target outcome). In the other test outcome, the Recipient handled the non-target object (Non-target outcome; Fig.1). We measured infants’ looking times during each test outcome, capitalizing on the phenomenon that infants tend to look longer to the screen at unexpected or surprising events. If infants expected the Communicator’s speech to inform the Recipient about her preference for the target object, we expected longer looking times in the Non-target outcome than the Target outcome. Otherwise, we expected no significant differences.
The results, although preliminary, suggest that monolingual infants expect a foreign speech to transfer information only when both speakers share the same language, but not when the Recipient has shown to be a native-speaker. In contrast, bilingual infants expect transfer of information in both conditions (see Fig. 2). This evidence suggests that infants generalize their experience with others’ communicative interactions to reason about novel communicative situations involving unfamiliar people and languages.


Camille Frey & Nuria Sebastian-Galles,  Top-down influences on phoneme acquisition: Data from Spanish-Catalan bilinguals
When learning their native language, one of the first steps the infants face is the acquisition of the phonetic categories. To do so, it has been proposed that infants compute the distribution of sounds in the acoustic space (Maye, Werker and Gerken, 2002). This perceptual reorganization coincides with the acquisition of the first words (Bergelson and Swingley, 2009; Tincoff and Jusczyk, 1998) but the possible influence of word-level information on the establishment of phonetic categories has been poorly investigated. One interesting population to investigate this question are bilinguals learning two typologically close languages such as Spanish and Catalan. These languages share a high amount of cognates among their translation equivalents. Moreover, these cognates differ mainly in their vowels inducing a high vocalic variability and incrementing the number of minimal pairs in the speech stream. Feldman et al. (2013) found that word-level information constrained how both adults and 8-month-olds treated overlapping vocalic native contrast, leading them to propose that the presence of non-minimal pairs may help separate two overlapping vowel categories by providing a clearer word context.
We want to address the possible impact of bilingualism/cognateness in the establishment of phonetic categories by comparing Spanish-Catalan bilinguals and monolinguals. We adapted Feldman et al. (2013) procedure to test both adults and 8 month-olds on their discrimination of a difficult to perceive non-native contrast (British English /ɒ-ʌ/ contrast).
Using a corpus of pseudo-words containing the vocalic contrast /ɒ-ʌ/, we familiarized both groups of participants according to two word-context conditions: the Minimal Pair (MP) condition where the vocalic contrast appeared in all the pseudo-words (e.g, “litɒh-litʌh-nutʌh-nutɒh”), and the Non-Minimal Pair (NMP) condition where the contrast appeared in distinct word context (e.g, “litɒh-nutʌh” or “litʌh-nutɒh”). Adults’ discrimination was assessed in a discrimination task by calculating their sensitivity score to the /ɒ-ʌ/ contrast (d’) in two test blocks (within participants). Infants’ discrimination was assessed in a Head-turn preference procedure by measuring the mean looking times towards two types of test trials (between participants): Non-Alternating (syllables repeating one of the test vowels), and Alternating (syllables alternating each test vowel).
Results of the adult study (n=80; Figure 1) showed that the monolingual group replicate the pattern found by Feldman et al. (2013): in the first test block, exposure to the NMP condition significantly increased participants’ sensitivity score (p=.024). Bilinguals, instead, showed similar discrimination in the two conditions; additionally, they discriminated better than the monolinguals in both conditions, especially in the MP condition (p=.008). This suggests that, Spanish-Catalan bilinguals put less weight on word-context.
Infants’ preliminary results show that only bilinguals (n=14) discriminate at test, as revealed by a significant test trials by language profile interaction (p=.018). When separating across conditions (Fig.2), bilinguals show a trend to discriminate test trials only in the NMP condition (p=.063) suggesting a different pattern from their adult peers. Contrary to the results of Feldman et al. (2013), monolinguals (n=14) show no systematic preference for test trials in both conditions suggesting so far an absence of discrimination.
These results suggest an influence of bilingualism in the establishment of phonetic categories only for adult participants but more data is needed concerning the infant group.


Chiara Santolin, Jenny R. Saffran & Nuria Sebastian-Galles (University Pompeu Fabra - Center for Brain and Cognition, Spain / University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA)
Non-linguistic artificial grammar learning in 13-month-old infants: A cross-lab replication study
When infants begin to acquire grammatical structures of their native languages, they learn that words are grouped into categories, and organized according to hierarchical patterns. They also learn that a given word category predicts the presence of a member of another word category, computing predictive (statistical) dependencies across words to discover linguistic phrase structure. Previous studies showed that 12- to 13-month-old infants track phrase structure from artificial languages (Saffran et al., 2008) and auditory nonlinguistic inputs (Santolin & Saffran, under rev), suggesting that predictability in the input facilitates learning.
The current research is aimed at replicating Santolin & Saffran (under rev) and compare results across studies. Stimuli were strings produced using a set of 5 nonlinguistic sounds (Mac Alert sounds), were clearly discriminable from one another, and were intended to correspond to words of the linguistic grammar used in Saffran et al. 2008. Grammar comprised 8 strings containing predictive (statistical) dependencies: the presence of a given sound predicted the presence of another sound within the same string, and sound strings were embedded into other sound strings conferring hierarchical organization to the grammar (Fig. 1). We used Headturn Preference to assess learning. After familiarization with the grammar, infants were tested with familiar (grammar-matching) strings and novel (grammar-violating) strings. Group A included 13-month-olds infants recruited in Madison (WI, USA), and Group B included infants of the same age recruited in Barcelona (Spain). Looking time measures revealed that both groups discriminated between familiar and unfamiliar test strings, thus replicating Santolin & Saffran and in line with what found with linguistic materials (Saffran et al., 2008), and in different age ranges (Saffran, 2001; Saffran, 2002) and species (Abe & Watanabe, 2011; Wilson et al., 2013).
Interestingly, though, the two groups of infants showed opposite patterns of preference. In Group A, infants listened longer to novel “ungrammatical” strings (5.49s vs. 6.42s; t(26)=2.454, p=.021, d=.47) whereas in Group B, infants listened longer to familiar “grammatical” strings (8.17s vs. 6.81s; t(16)=2.403, p=.027, d=.55; Fig. 2). Although preliminary, further analysis revealed a significant difference across groups (F(1,44)=11.759, p=.001), which seems to be driven by a specific difference in looking times for familiar test strings (t(25)=2.457, p=.021). One possible explanation of such result points to different language experience: Group A comprised infants raised in a monolingual environment, while Group B comprised infants raised in multilingual one. Whether multilanguage experience may affect infant direction of preference in this task, it has to be determined, and represents an intriguing question for further research.
Overall, this research provides replicable evidence of infant learning of phrase structure in linguistic and nonlinguistic inputs. Predictive dependencies may facilitate learning of phrase structure also in nonlinguistic auditory inputs, pointing to predictability as an important constraint on learning.

Gonzalo García-Castro, Mireia Marimon, Chiara Santolin & Núria Sebastian-Galles (University Pompeu Fabra - Center for Brain and Cognition, Spain / University of Potsdam, Germany)
Encoding new word forms when contrastive phonemes are interchanged: A preliminary study on 8-months-old infants
From 6 to 12 months of age infants attune their perceptual abilities to the phonetic repertoire of their native language. Nevertheless, 8 months Catalan-Spanish bilingual infants (whose languages share a significant number of cognates) seem to treat as similar some words in which contrastive phonemes have been interchanged (e.g., "dodi" [’doði] and dudi [’duði]) when facing a preferential looking task. Yet, anticipatory looking tasks have revealed that infants are able to discriminate such contrasts: they perceive /o/ and /u/ as different phonemes. One possible explanation is that /o/ and /u/ are frequently interchanged in translation equivalents across Catalan and Spanish (e.g., [pɾo’θeso] in Spanish, [pɾu'ses] in Catalan, both translations of "processing"). This might be leading infants to consider this contrast as non-relevant at the lexical level. In other words, bilingual infants might treat "dodi" and "dudi" as acceptable variants of the same word. The results of preferential looking studies point in the direction that such effect may be restricted to frequently interchanged contrasts, like /o/-/u/ and /e/-/ε/, but not to non-interchanged contrasts such as /e/-/u/ or /e/-/i/.
We report preliminary data of a first study aimed at testing Jusczyk & Aslin (1995, Cognitive Psychology) Head-turn Preference Procedure, given previous failures or contrasting patterns in terms of familiarity vs. preference. Following J&A’s experiment 4, infants were familiarised with short sentences spoken in the infant’s dominant language, embedding two made-up words (e.g. "gon", "mus"). At test, infants were presented with familiar (e.g. "gon", "mus") and unfamiliar words (e.g. "for", "pul") and looking times were measured as dependent variable. The results of monolingual infants (Figure 1; N = 11) suggests that they were able to discriminate and showed a novelty preference pattern. We computed a non-parametric test on median values (unfamiliar: Median = 11346.17 ms, SEM = 606.55; familiar: Median = 8996.5 ms, SEM = 610.54); W = 9, p = 0.032 (Cohen’s d = 0.7)). Our data replicated J&A’s results.
We are currently testing the critical experiment with 8-month-old Spanish-Catalan monolinguals and bilinguals. In this experiment infants are not presented with the familiarised words in the test phase, but with stimuli where the test vowels are exchanged at the test phase (e.g., familiarised with "for", "pul" and tested with "fur", "pol" and "gon", "mus" -new items). We predict that if bilingual infants treat the /o-u/ contrast as exchangeable at the lexical level, they will show a novelty preference for new items (e.g. they will look longer when listening "gon", "mus", than when listening to "fur", "pol").