Diminutives facilitate word segmentation in natural speech: cross-linguistic evidence
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Final-syllable invariance is characteristic of diminutives (e.g., doggie), which are a pervasive feature of the child-directed speech registers of many languages. Invariance in word endings has been shown to facilitate word segmentation (Kempe, Brooks, & Gillis, 2005) in an incidental-learning paradigm in which synthesized Dutch pseudonouns were used. To broaden the cross-linguistic evidence for this invariance effect and to increase its ecological validity, adult English speakers (n = 276) were exposed to naturally spoken Dutch or Russian pseudonouns presented in sentence contexts. A forced choice test was given to assess target recognition, with foils comprising unfamiliar syllable combinations in Experiments 1 and 2 and syllable combinations straddling word boundaries in Experiment 3. A control group (n = 210) received the recognition test with no prior exposure to targets. Recognition performance improved with increasing final-syllable rhyme invariance, with larger increases for the experimental group. This confirms that word ending invariance is a valid segmentation cue in artificial, as well as naturalistic, speech and that diminutives may aid segmentation in a number of languages.