Infants can recognise the majority of sounds soon after birth and begin to become language-specific listeners by the age of one, according to a recent study.
Researchers are still trying to find out how babies identify which acoustic features of their language are contrastive, a linguistic term that captures distinctions between speech sounds that can modify word meanings. In English, for example, the letters [b] and [d] are contrastive because altering the [b] in 'ball' to a [d] creates a new word, 'doll.' The findings were published in a recent paper in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by two computational linguists affiliated with the University of Maryland offers new insight on this topic, which is imperative for a better understanding of how infants learn what the sounds of their native language are. Their research shows that an infant's ability to interpret acoustic differences as either contrastive or non-contrastive may come from the contexts that different sounds occur.