UCL Working Papers in Linguistics 10 (1998)

Yoruba babies and unchained melody

PHIL HARRISON


Earlier work on the perception of stop contrasts by infants and of lexical tone by Yorób  adults sets the context for the results presented here, which demonstrate the sensitivity of six- to eight-month old Yorób  babies to the tonal contrasts of their native language. Like adult speakers, they discriminate high tone from other tones in a single nuclear domain, but fail to discriminate mid from low tone. English-acquiring controls remain completely uninterested in such distinctions. These findings are readily aligned with the characterisation of melodic objects as privative elements, and so lend psycholinguistic credence to this model and provide evidence of the acquisition of laryngeal phonological contrasts in the first year of life.


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