What is it about?

This study looks at how well young children (ages 3-5 years) can tell apart similar-sounding words. They hear pairs of made-up words like "deev teev" or "vush vush" and are asked to report whether they are the same or different. As children get older, they get better at telling apart words that are very different (like saying "different" when they hear "deev feff") but they also get better at telling apart similar words (like saying "different" when they hear "deev teev"). They also seem to do better at telling apart words when they have heard one of the words a lot. For example, if they hear several repetitions of "deev" they are better at telling apart "deev teev" than if they haven't heard repetitions.

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Why is it important?

This study contributes to our understanding of how well children store memories of speech sounds in new words. It also suggests that supporting perceptual memory may improve ability to tell apart sounds. This may inform techniques for testing children's natural speech processing abilities.


My research examines how children and adults form representations of sounds, including sounds in words. One major interest is in assessing how speech sound representations improve over development. There is very little research connecting two sets of findings: infants can tell apart speech sounds under certain conditions; adults can tell apart many speech sounds and learn lots of similar-sounding new words. We know a lot less about what happens in between those ages and how sound representations are changed and refined with experience. This study suggests that young children are still in the process of refining speech sound representations.

Professor Sarah C Creel
University of California San Diego

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Preschoolers Have Difficulty Discriminating Novel Minimal-Pair Words, Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, July 2022, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA),
DOI: 10.1044/2022_jslhr-22-00029.
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