Events

Human listeners are better at telling apart speakers of their native language than speakers of other languages, a phenomenon known as the language familiarity effect. The recent observation of such an effect in infants as young as 4.5 months of age (Fecher & Johnson, in press) has led to new difficulties for theories of the effect. On the one hand, retaining classical accounts—which rely on sophisticated knowledge of the native language (Goggin, Thompson, Strube, & Simental, 1991)–requires an explanation of how infants could acquire this knowledge so early. On the other hand, letting go of these accounts requires an explanation of how the effect could arise in the absence of such knowledge. In this paper, we build on algorithms from unsupervised machine learning and zero-resource speech technology to propose, for the first time, a feasible acquisition mechanism for the language familiarity effect in infants. Our results show how, without relying on sophisticated linguistic knowledge, infants could develop a language familiarity effect through statistical modeling at multiple time-scales of the acoustics of the speech signal to which they are exposed.