Judit Gervain · [CSC] The role of prenatal experience in early speech processing and language acquisition
Hearing is operational from the third trimester of gestation. Infants thus first experience language in the womb. In this talk I will present a series of near-infrared spectroscopy experiments with newborns suggesting that this prenatal experience may already shape how infants perceive and start learning about language. As maternal tissues act as low-pass filters, fetuses mainly experience the prosody of speech, fine details necessary for the identification of words are mostly suppressed. I will show that at birth infants already recognize the prosodic properties of the language(s) they heard in utero, they weigh prosody as a strong cue to package the speech stream into relevant units. I will link this early prosodic experience to theories of prosodic bootstrapping assumed to operate later during language acquisition.