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Peter D. Eimas on Language Development - Dictionary of Arguments

Slater I 192
Language development/Eimas: Problem: how to test children younger than 12 months (when they begin to utter their first words). (>Phonetics/psychological theories.)
Slater I 192
Two of Eimas’s colleagues at Brown University (Siqueland & DeLucia, 1969)(1) had developed just such a method, and it was suitable for infants as young as one month of age. The method — High Amplitude Sucking (HAS) - was a form of operant conditioning in which sucking behavior led to the presentation of a reward. In the Eimas et al. (1971)(2) study, the reward was the presentation of the speech sounds themselves; that is, there was no additional external reinforcer such as food, and it is therefore called conjugate reinforcement. Apparently, infants find the contingency between their own behavior (sucking) and the presentation of a stimulus (speech) of sufficient reinforcing value that it leads to an increase in sucking.
(…) [T]he goal of the Eimas et al. (1971)(2) study was to determine whether very young infants, who had no experience producing speech or speech-like sounds, and only limited exposure to the sounds of their native language, perceived these sounds in a categorical manner. (>Phonetics/psychological theories).
Slater I 192
Categorical Perception (CP): This special mode of perception was characterized by two crucial properties:
(a) tokens presented from a physical continuum were identified (labeled) as a member of one category or the other, with a sharp transition in identification (ID) at the category boundary, and
(b) failure of within-category discrimination and a peak in between-category discrimination for tokens that straddled the category boundary. >Language development/psychological theories.
Slater I 193
If they did, then one could conclude that at least this level (phonetics) of human language operated with the aid of an innate mechanism that was unique to speech and presumably unique to humans.
Identification/sounds/phonemes/language/criteria/Eimas: the only measure provided by Eimas et al. in their 1971(2) study was discrimination (not identification) of speech sounds.
For the study and its results see >Phonetics/Eimas.
Slater I 196
1. EimasVsEimas: it is not certain, that infants (…) have VOT (voice onset time) categories that conform to the adult speakers in their native language environment.
Eimas Thesis: “All languages use the middle location, short voicing lag, which ... corresponds to the English voiced stop /b/, and one or both of the remaining modal values." (p. 304).
2. VsEimas: in some natural languages there is a third category (Lisker & Abramson, 1964)(3).
Problem: Implicit in the foregoing claims is that infants have innate categories, but only some of these categories correspond to the ones that will be functional in their native language. That is, the “biologically determined” voicing categories (>Phonetics/Eimas) in perception will only approximately match the actual VOT categories in any given language, until experience in that language drops out the categories that are not actually used (if in fact all three categories are not phonemically relevant). Moreover, there are language-specific differences in precisely where the boundaries are located along the VOT continuum, even for languages that have the same number of categories.
Solution: Lasky, Syrdal-Lasky, and Klein (1975)(4) showed that infants from a Spanish speaking environment discriminate all three voicing categories despite the fact that adult speakers divide the voiced-voiceless distinction at a VOT location that would fall within the “universal” voiced category (i.e., /ba/ in English). See also Streeter (1976)(5) for Kikuyu. See also Eilers, Gavin, and Wilson (1979)(6) for Spanish.

1. Siqueland, E. R., & DeLucia, C. A. (1969). Visual reinforcement of nonnutritive sucking in human infants. Science, 165, 1144—1146.
2. Eimas, P. D., Siqueland, E. R.,Jusczyk, P., & Vigorito, J. (1971). Speech perception in infants. Science, 171, 303-306.
3. Lisker, L., & Abramson, A. S. (1964). A cross language study of voicing in initial stops: Acoustical measurements. Word, 20, 3 84—422.
4. Lasky, R. E, Syrda1-Lasky A., & Klein, R. E. (1975). VOT Discrimination by four to six and a half month old infants from Spanish environments. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 20, 215—
5. Streeter, L. A. (1976). Language perception of 2-mo-old infants shows effects of both innate mechanisms and experience. Nature, 259, 39—4 1.
6. Eilers, R. E., Gavin, W. J., & Wilson, W. R. (1979). Linguistic experience and phonemic perception in infancy: Across linguistic study. Child Development, 50, 14—18.

Richard N. Aslin, “Language Development. Revisiting Eimas et al.‘s /ba/ and /pa/ Study”, in: Alan M. Slater and Paul C. Quinn (eds.) 2012. Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications

Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Eimas, Peter D.
Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012

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