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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Impacts of acoustic‐phonetic variability on perceptual development for spoken language: A review

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Abstract This article reviews research on when acoustic‐phonetic variability facilitates, inhibits, or does not impact perceptual development for spoken language, to illuminate mechanisms by which variability aids learning of language sound patterns. We first summarize structures and sources of variability. We next present proposed mechanisms to account for how and why variability impacts learning. Finally, we review effects of variability in the domains of speech‐sound category and pattern learning; word‐form recognition and word learning; and accent processing. Variability can be helpful, harmful, or neutral depending on the learner's age and learning objective. Irrelevant variability can facilitate children's learning, particularly for early learning of words and phonotactic rules. For speech‐sound change detection and word‐form recognition, children seem either unaffected or impaired by irrelevant variability. At the same time, inclusion of variability in training can aid generalization. Variability between accents may slow learning—but with the longer‐term benefits of improved comprehension of multiple accents. By highlighting accent as a form of acoustic‐phonetic variability and considering impacts of dialect prestige on children's learning, we hope to contribute to a better understanding of how exposure to multiple accents impacts language development and may have implications for literacy development. This article is categorized under: Linguistics > Language Acquisition Psychology > Language Psychology > Perception and Psychophysics
Possible relationships between speech and nonspeech variability in laboratory studies and natural settings. Colors refer to speech‐sound category. Rugs indicate frequency of each value on each axis
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Response to mispronunciations of a newly learned word (“deebo”) is related to degree of mispronunciation. Adults and 30‐month‐olds showed a larger target‐fixation decrement to a two‐feature change in vowel height and front/backness (/i/ to /a/ in “dahbo”) than to a single‐feature change in consonant voicing (/d/ to /t/ in “teebo”)
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Some of the possible forms of between‐accent variability in two speech‐sound categories. Rugs indicate frequency of each value on each axis
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Psychology > Perception and Psychophysics
Psychology > Language
Linguistics > Language Acquisition

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