Diminutives in child-directed speech supplement metric with distributional word segmentation cues
In two experiments, we explored whether diminutives (e.g., birdie, Patty, bootie), which are characteristic of child-directed speech in many languages, aid word segmentation by regularizing stress patterns and word endings. In an implicit learning task, adult native speakers of English were exposed to a continuous stream of synthesized Dutch nonsense input comprising 300 randomized repetitions of six bisyllabic target norwords. After exposure, the participants were given a forced choice recognition test to judge which strings had been present in the input. Experiment 1 demonstrated that English speakers used trochaic stress to isolate strings, despite being unfamiliar with Dutch phonotactics. Experiment 2 showed benefits from invariance introduced by affricates, which are typically found at onsets of final syllables in Dutch diminutives. Together, the results demonstrate that diminutives contain prosodic and distributional features that are beneficial for word segmentation.