Language specific prosodic preferences during the first half year of life: evidence from German and French infants

Barbara Höhle*, Ranka Bijeljac-Babic, Birgit Herold, Jürgen Weissenborn, Thierry Nazzi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

150 Citations (Scopus)


There is converging evidence that infants are sensitive to prosodic cues from birth onwards and use this kind of information in their earliest steps into the acquisition of words and syntactic regularities of their target language. Regarding word segmentation, it has been found that English-learning infants segment trochaic words by 7.5 months of age, and iambic words only by 10.5 months of age [Jusczyk, P. W., Houston, D. M., & Newsome, M. (1999). The beginnings of word segmentation in English-learning infants. Cognitive Psychology, 39, 159-207]. The question remains how to interpret this finding in relation to results showing that English-learning infants develop a preference for trochaic over iambic words between 6 and 9 months of age [Jusczyk, P. W., Cutler, A., & Redanz, N. (1993). Preference for the predominant stress patterns of English words. Child Development, 64, 675-687]. In the following, we report the results of four experiments using the headturn preference procedure (HPP) to explore the trochaic bias issue in German- and French-learning infants. For German, a trochaic preference was found at 6 but not at 4 months, suggesting an emergence of this preference between both ages (Experiments 1 and 2). For French, 6-month-old infants did not show a preference for either stress pattern (Experiment 3) while they were found to discriminate between the two stress patterns (Experiment 4). Our findings are the first to demonstrate that the trochaic bias is acquired by 6 months of age, is language specific and can be predicted by the rhythmic properties of the language in acquisition. We discuss the implications of this very early acquisition for our understanding of the emergence of segmentation abilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-274
Number of pages13
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Language acquisition
  • Language specific effects on speech perception
  • Perception of prosody


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