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AbstractSensitivity to statistical regularities in spoken language may play an important role in language learning However whereas studies of statistical learning typically have focused on learning at a single level the functional units over which statistical regularities may be calculated are highly acoustically variable embedded in continuous speech and defined only probabilistically by acoustic dimensions This presents a more complex learning challenge in that multiple regularities must be discovered simultaneously from speech acoustics In a series of experiments we utilized an artificial learning environment to investigate how adult listeners respond to the challenge of learning new sound categories from acoustically-variable input residing in continuous and unfamiliar sound streams Training was accomplished with an active video-game task inherently rich in multisensory exposure of to-be-learned target words and likely to engage procedural learning without explicit categorization segmentation or attention to the sounds After 100 minutes of game playing participants categorized familiar and novel sentences based on the target words as well as isolated instances of the target words Keywords Language learning Statistical learning Speech perception Speech CategorizationIntroductionA radio news show broadcast in an unfamiliar language seems to race by giving the impression that the language uses very long words and the broadcaster barely pauses for breath This impression arises because the acoustic speech signal does not consistently highlight linguistically significant units with pauses like the spaces that mark words in text Cole Jakimik 1980 Through experience listeners must discover a constellation of diagnostic acoustic and statistical cues such as prosody stress patterns allophonic variation phonotactic regularities and the distributional properties of words to discover the units that support word segmentation see Jusczyk 1999 Complicating matters for adults listening to speech in a non-native language native-language segmentation cues influence adults evaluation of non-native speech and may lead to inaccurate segmentation when the languages cues do not align eg Altenberg 2005 Barcroft Sommers 2005 Cutler 2001 Cutler Mehler Norris Segui 1986 Cutler Otake 1994 Flege
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