Before the word

acquiring a phoneme inventory

Titia Benders, Nicole Altvater-Mackensen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


One of the benchmark questions parents are asked about their child’s language development is ‘Does she already say some words?’. While the first word is very tangible proof that a child’s language development has taken off, that first word is part of a developmental trajectory including babbling, word comprehension and–one of infants’ very first accomplishments on the way to the first word–the acquisition of language-specific sound perception. The current chapter reviews the main experimental findings and theoretical positions on infants’ acquisition of the native phoneme system. In particular, we will discuss how speech perception and production evolve in the early stages of language development and how speech perception shows continuity with later word learning. We first introduce general developments in speech perception and production in the first year of life and present the main theoretical views on the developmental relationship between perception, production and word learning. The second and third parts examine the acquisition of particular contrasts in speech perception, speech production and word learning, highlighting the parallels in development across domains and discussing their potential interplay. The chapter will conclude with avenues for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEarly word learning
EditorsGert Westermann, Nivedita Mani
Place of PublicationAbingdon, Oxon
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781317550594, 9781315730974
ISBN (Print)9781138843516, 9781138843523
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameCurrent issues in developmental psychology

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  • Cite this

    Benders, T., & Altvater-Mackensen, N. (2018). Before the word: acquiring a phoneme inventory. In G. Westermann, & N. Mani (Eds.), Early word learning (pp. 1-14). (Current issues in developmental psychology). Abingdon, Oxon: Taylor & Francis.